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M I L T O N 






First  Edition  1879 

Reprinted  1880,  1883,  1885,  1887,  1890,  1894, 
1895,  1896,  1900,  1902,  1906,  1909 




FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 

^ . CHAPTER  I. 

\i)  page 

Family— School— College.  . ] 


Residence  at  Horton4-L’ allegro — II 


Penseroso— -Ar- 



Journey  to  Italy  . .32 



SECOND  PERIOD . 1640- 1 660. 

....  CHAPTER  IV. 


r Educational  Theory— Teaching  . . . . 43 

7 'Marriage  and 


Pamphlet  on  Divorce 

» 4 



Pamphlets  . 


» • 





1640—1649  .... 

e a 






The  Latin  Secretaryship  . 



Milton  and  Salmasius — Blindness 

H n _ 


Milton  and  Morus — The  Second  Defence  — The  Defence 




Latin  Secretaryship  comes  to  an  end — Milton’s  Friends 

THIRD  PERIOD.  1 660—1 674. 


Biographical — Literary  Occupation — Religious  Opinions 


Paradise  Lost — Paradise  Regained— Samson  Agonistbs  . 












FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 



In  the  seventeenth  century  it  was  not  the  custom  to  pub* 
lish  two  volumes  upon  every  man  or  woman  whose  name 
had  appeared  on  a title-page.  Nor,  where  lives  of  authors 
were  written,  were  they  written  with  the  redundancy  of 
particulars  which  is  now  allowed.  Especially  are  the  lives 
of  the  poets  and  dramatists  obscure  and  meagrely  recorded. 
Of  Milton,  however,  we  know  more  personal  details  than 
of  any  man  of  letters  of  that  age.  Edward  Phillips,  the 
poet’s  nephew,  who  was  brought  up  by  his  uncle,  and 
lived  in  habits  of  intercourse  with  him  to  the  last,  wrote 
a life,  brief,  inexact,  superficial,  but  valuable  from  the 
nearness  of  the  writer  to  the  subject  of  his  memoir.  A 
cotemporary  of  Milton,  John  Aubrey  (b.  1625),  “a  very 
honest  man,  and  accurate  in  his  accounts  of  matters  of 
fact,”  as  Toland  says  of  him,  made  it  his  business  to  learn 
all  he  could  about  Milton’s  habits.  Aubrey  was  himself 



FIRST  PERIOD,  1608—1639, 


acquainted  with  Milton,  and  diligently  catechised  the 
poet’s  widow,  his  brother,  and  his  nephew,  scrupulously 
writing  down  each  detail  as  it  came  to  him,  in  the  minutes 
of  lives  which  he  supplied  to  Antony  Wood  to  he  worked 
up  in  his  Athence  and  Fasti.  Aubrey  was  only  an  anti- 
quarian collector,  and  was  mainly  dependent  on  what 
could  he  learned  from  the  family.  None  of  Milton’s 
family,  and  least  of  all  Edward  Phillips,  were  of  a capacity 
to  apprehend  moral  or  mental  qualities,  and  they  could 
only  tell  Aubrey  of  his  goings  out  and  his  comings  in,  of 
the  clothes  he  wore,  the  dates  of  events,  the  names  of  his 
acquaintance.  In  compensation  for  the  want  of  observa- 
tion on  the  part  of  his  own  kith  and  kin,  Milton  himself, 
with  a superb  and  ingenuous  egotism,  has  revealed  the 
secret  of  his  thoughts  and  feelings  in  numerous  autobio- 
graphical passages  of  his  prose  writings.  From  what  he 
directly  communicates,  and  from  what  he  unconsciously 
betrays,  we  obtain  an  internal  life  of  the  mind,  more 
ample  than  that  external  life  of  the  bodily  machine, 
which  we  owe  to  Aubrey  and  Phillips. 

In  our  own  generation  all  that  printed  books  or  writ- 
ten documents  have  preserved  about  Milton  has  been 
laboriously  brought  together  by  Professor  David  Masson, 
in  whose  Life  of  Milton  we  have  the  most  exhaustive  bio- 
graphy that  ever  was  compiled  of  any  Englishman.  It  is 
a noble  and  final  monument  erected  to  the  poet’s  memory, 
two  centuries  after  his  death.  My  excuse  for  attempting 
to  write  of  Milton  after  Mr.  Masson  is  that  his  life  is  in  six 
volumes  octavo,  with  a total  of  some  four  to  five  thousand 
pages.  The  present  outline  is  written  for  a different  class 
of  readers,  those,  namely,  who  cannot  afford  to  know 
more  of  Milton  than  can  be  told  in  some  two  hundred 
and  fifty  pages. 




A family  of  Miltons,  deriving  the  name  in  all  probability 
from  the  parish  of  Great  Milton  near  Thame,  is  found  in 
various  branches  spread  over  Oxfordshire  and  the  adjoin- 
ing counties  in  the  reign  of  Elisabeth.  The  poet’s  grand- 
father was  a substantial  yeoman,  living  at  Stanton  St.  John, 
about  live  miles  from  Oxford,  within  the  forest  of  Shot- 
over,  of  which  he  was  also  an  under-ranger.  The  ranger’s 
son  John  was  at  school  in  Oxford,  possibly  as  a chorister, 
conformed  to  the  Established  Church,  and  was  in  conse- 
quence cast  off  by  his  father,  who  adhered  to  the  old  faith. 
The  disinherited  son  went  up  to  London,  and  by  the 
assistance  of  a friend  was  set  up  in  business  as  a scrivener. 
A scrivener  discharged  some  of  the  functions  which,  at 
the  present  day,  are  undertaken  for  us  in  a solicitor’s 
office.  John  Milton  the  father,  being  a man  of  probity 
and  force  of  character,  was  soon  on  the  way  to  acquire 
“ a plentiful  fortune.”  But  he  continued  to  live  over  his 
shop,  which  was  in  Bread  Street,  Cheapside,  and  which 
bore  the  sign  of  the  Spread  Eagle,  the  family  crest. 

It  was  at  the  Spread  Eagle  that  his  eldest  son,  John 
Milton,  was  bom^  9th  December,  1608,  being  thus 
exactly  cotemporary  with  Lord  Clarendon,  who  also 
died  in  the  same  year  as  the  poet.  Milton  must  be 
added  to  the  long  roll  of  our  poets  who  have  been 
natives  of  the  city  which  now  never  sees  sunlight  or 
blue  sky,  along  with  Chaucer,  Spenser,  Herrick,  Cowley, 
Shirley,  Ben  Jonson,  Pope,  Gray,  Keats.  Besides  attend- 
ing as  a day-scholar  at  St.  Paul’s  School,  which  was 
close  at  hand,  his  father  engaged  for  him  a private  tutor 
at  home.  The  household  of  the  Spread  Eagle  not  only 
enjoyed  civic  prosperity,  hut  some  share  of  that  liberal 
cultivation,  which,  if  not  imbibed  in  the  home,  neither 
school  nor  college  ever  confers.  The  scrivener  was  not 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


only  an  amateur  in  music,  but  a composer,  whose  tunes, 
songs,  and  airs  found  their  way  into  the  best  collections 
of  music.  Both  schoolmaster  and  tutor  were  men  of 
mark.  The  high  master  of  St.  Paul's  at  that  time 
was  Alexander  Gill,  an  M.A.  of  Corpus  Cliristi  College, 
Oxford,  who  was  66  esteemed  to  have  such  an  excellent 
way  of  training  up  youth,  that  none  in  his  time  went 
beyond  it."  The  private  tutor  was  Thomas  Young,  who 
was,  or  had  been,  curate  to  Mr.  Gataker,  of  Kotherhithe, 
itself  a certificate  of  merit,  even  if  we  had  not  the  pupil's 
emphatic  testimony  of  gratitude.  Milton's  fourth  elegy 
is  addressed  to  Young,  when,  in  1627,  he  was  settled  at 
Hamburg,  crediting  him  with  having  first  infused  into  his 
pupil  a taste  for  classic  literature  and  poetry.  Biographers 
have  derived  Milton's  Presbyterianism  in  1641  from  the 
lessons  twenty  years  before  of  this  Thomas  Young,  a 
Scotchman,  and  one  of  the  authors  of  the  Smectymnum . 
This,  however,  is  a misreading  of  Milton's  mind — a mind 
which  was  an  organic  whole — “ whose  seed  was  in  itself," 
seK-deterinined ; not  one  whose  opinions  can  be  accounted 
for  by  contagion  or  casual  impact. 

Of  Milton’s  boyish  exercises  two  have  been  preserved. 
They  are  English  paraphrases  of  two  of  the  Davidic 
Psalms,  and  were  done  at  the  age  of  fifteen.  That  they 
were  thought  by  himself  worth  printing  in  the  same 
volume  with  Comus , is  the  most  noteworthy  thing  about 
them.  No  words  are  so  commonplace  but  that  they  can 
be  made  to  yield  inference  by  a biographer.  And  even 
in  these  school  exercises  we  think  we  can  discern  that 
the  future  poet  was  already  a diligent  reader  of  Sylvester's 
Du  Bartas  (1605),  the  patriarch  of  Protestant  poetry, 
and  of  Fairfax's  Tasso  (1600).  There  are  other  indi- 
cations that,  from  very  early  years,  poetry  had  assumed 




a place  in  Milton’s  mind,  not  merely  as  a juvenile  pastime, 
but  as  an  occupation  of  serious  import. 

Young  Gill,  son  of  the  high  master,  a school-fellow  of 
Milton,  went  up  to  Trinity,  Oxford,  where  he  got  into 
trouble  by  being  informed  against  by  Chillingworth,  who 
reported  incautious  political  speeches  of  Gill  to  his 
godfather,  Laud.  With  Gill  Milton  corresponded ; they 
exchanged  their  verses,  Greek,  Latin,  and  English,  with 
a confession  on  Milton’s  part  that  he  prefers  English  and 
Latin  composition  to  Greek ; that  to  write  Greek  verses 
in  this  age  is  to  sing  to  the  deaf.  Gill,  Milton  finds  “ a 
severe  critic  of  poetry,  however  disposed  to  be  lenient  to 
his  friend’s  attempts.” 

If  Milton’s  genius  did  not  announce  itself  in  his  para- 
phrases of  Psalms,  it  did  in  his  impetuosity  in  learning, 
“ which  I seized  with  such  eagerness  that  from  the 
twelfth  year  of  my  age,  I scarce  ever  went  to  bed  before 
midnight.”  Such  is  his  own  account.  And  it  is  worth 
notice  that  we  have  here  an  incidental  test  of  the  trust- 
worthiness of  Aubrey’s  reminiscences.  Aubrey’s  words 
are,  “When  he  was  very  young  he  studied  very  hard, 
and  sate  up  very  late,  commonly  till  twelve  or  one  o’clock 
at  night ; and  his  father  ordered  the  maid  to  sit  up  for 

He  was  ready  for  college,  at.,  sixteen^  not  earlier  than 
the  usual  age  at  that  period.  As  his  schoolmasters,  both 
the  Gills,  were  Oxford  men  (Young  was  of  St.  Andrew’s), 
it  might  have  been  expected  that  the  young  scholar  would 
have  been  placed  at  Oxford.  However,  it  was  determined 
that  he  should  go  to  Cambridge,  where  he  was  admitted  a 
pensioner  of  Christ’s,  12th  February,  1625,  and  com- 
menced residence  in  the  Easter  term  ensuing.  Perhaps 
his  father  feared  the  growing  High  Church,  or,  as  it  was 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


fclien  called,  Arminianism,  of  his  own  university.  It  so 
happened,  however,  that  the  tutor  to  whom  the  young 
Milton  was  consigned  was  specially  noted  for  Arminian 
proclivities.  This  was  William  Chappell,  then  Fellow  of 
Christ’s,  who  so  recommended  himself  to  Laud  by  his  party 
zeal,  that  he  was  advanced  to  be  Provost  of  Dublin  and 
Bishop  of  Cork. 

Milton  was  one  of  those  pupils  who  are  more  likely 
to  react  against  a tutor  than  to  take  a ply  from  him. 
A preaching  .divine — Chappell  composed  a treatise  on 
the  art  of  preaching— a narrow  ecclesiastic  of  the  type 
loved  by  Laud,  was  exactly  the  man  who  would  drive 
Milton  into  opposition.  But  the  tutor  of  the  seventeenth 
century  was  not  able,  like  the  easy-going  tutor  of  the 
eighteenth,  to  leave  the  young  rebel  to  pursue  the  reading 
of  his  choice  in  his  own  chamber.  Chappell  endeavoured 
to  drive  his  pupil  along  the  scholastic  highway  of  exercises. 
Milton,  returning  to  Cambridge  after  his  summer  vacation, 
eager  for  the  acquisition  of  wisdom,  complains  that  he 
“ was  dragged  from  his  studies,  and  compelled  to  employ 
himself  in  composing  some  frivolous  declamation  ! ” In- 
docile, as  he  confesses  himself  (indocilisque  astas  prava 
magistra  fuit),  he  kicked  against  either  the  discipline  or 
the  exercises  exacted  by  college  rules.  He  was  punished. 
Aubrey  had  heard  that  he  was  flogged,  a thing  not  im- 
possible in  itself,  as  the  Admonition  Booh  of  Emanuel 
gives  an  instance  of  corporal  chastisement  as  late  as  1667. 
Aubrey’s  statement,  however,  is  a dubitative  interlineation 
in  his  MS.,  and  Milton’s  age,  seventeen,  as  well  as  the 
silence  of  his  later  detractors,  who  raked  up  everything 
which  could  be  told  to  his  disadvantage,  concur  to  make 
us  hesitate  to  accept  a fact  on  so  slender  evidence.  Any- 
how, Milton  was  sent  away  from  college  for  a time,  in  the 




year  1627,  in  consequence  of  something  unpleasant  which 
had  occurred.  That  it  was  something  of  which  he  was 
not  ashamed  is  clear,  from  his  alluding  to  it  himself  in 
the  lines  written  at  the  time, — 

Nee  duri  libet  usque  minas  perferre  magistri 
Caeteraque  ingenio  non  subeunda  meo. 

And  that  the  tutor  was  not  considered  to  have  been 
wholly  free  from  blame  is  evident  from  the  fact  that  the 
master  transferred  Milton  from  Chappell  to  another  tutor, 
a very  unusual  proceeding.  Whatever  the  nature  of  the 
punishment,  it  was  not  what  is  known  as  rustication  ; 
for  Milton  did  not  lose  a term,  taking  his  two  degrees  of 
B.A.  and  M.A.  in  regular  course,  at  the  earliest  date 
from  his  matriculation  permitted  by  the  statutes.  The 
one  outbreak  of  juvenile  petulance  and  indiscipline  over, 
Milton’s  force  of  character  and  unusual  attainments  ac- 
quired him  the  esteem  of  his  seniors.  The  nickname  of 
“ the  lady  of  Christ’s”  given  him  in  derision  by  his  fellow- 
students,  is  an  attestation  of  virtuous  conduct.  Ten 
years  later,  in  1642,  Milton  takes  an  opportunity  to 
“ acknowledge  publicly,  with  all  grateful  mind,  that  more 
than  ordinary  respect  which  I found,  above  many  of  my 
equals,  at  the  hands  of  those  courteous  and  learned  men, 
the  Fellows  of  that  college  wherein  I spent  some  years ; 
who,  at  my  parting  after  I had  taken  two  degrees,  as  the 
manner  is,  signified  many  ways  how  much  better  it  would 
content  them  that  I w^ould  stay ; as  by  many  letters  full 
of  kindness  and  loving  respect,  both  before  that  time  and 
long  after,  I was  assured  of  their  singular  good  affection 
towards  me.” 

The  words  “ how  much  better  it  would  content  them 
that  I would  stay  ” have  been  thought  to  hint  at  the 

8 FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639.  [chap. 

offer  of  a fellowship  at  Christ’s.  It  is  highly  improbable 
that  such  an  offer  was  ever  made.  There  had  been  two 
vacancies  in  the  roll  of  fellows  since  Milton  had  become 
eligible  by  taking  his  B.A.  degree,  and  he  had  been 
passed  over  in  favour  of  juniors.  It  is  possible  that 
Milton  was  not  statutably  eligible,  for,  by  the  statutes  of 
Christ’s,  there  could  not  be,  at  one  time,  more  than  two 
fellows  who  were  natives  of  the  same  county.  Edward 
King,  who  was  Milton’s  junior,  was  put  in,  not  by  college 
election,  but  by  royal  mandate.  And  in  universities 
generally,  it  is  not  literature  or  general  acquirements 
which  recommend  a candidate  for  endowed  posts,  but 
technical  skill  in  the  prescribed  exercises,  and  a pedagogic 

Further  than  this,  had  a fellowship  in  his  college  been 
attainable,  it  would  not  have  had  much  attraction  for 
Milton.  A fellowship  implied  two  things,  residence  in 
college,  with  teaching,  and  orders  in  the  church.  With 
neither  of  these  two  conditions  was  Milton  prepared  to 
comply.  In  1632,  when  he  proceeded  to  his  M.A.  degree, 
Milton  was  twenty-four,  he  had  been  seven  years  in 
college,  and  had  therefore  sufficient  experience  what 
college  life  was  like.  He  who  was  so  impatient  of  the 
“ turba  legentum  prava  ” in  the  Bodleian  library,  could 
not  have  patiently  consorted  with  the  vulgar-minded  and 
illiterate  ecclesiastics,  who  peopled  the  colleges  of  that 
day.  Even  Mede,  though  the  author  of  Clavis  Apo- 
calyptica  was  steeped  in  the  soulless  clericalism  of  his 
age,  could  not  support  his  brother-fellows  without  fre- 
quent retirements  to  Balsham,  “ being  not  willing  to  be 
joined  with  such  company.”  To  be  dependent  upon 
Bainbrigge’s  (the  Master  of  Christ’s)  good  pleasure  for  a 
supply  of  pupils;  to  have  to  live  in  daily  intercourse 




with  the  Powers  and  the  Chappells,  such  as  we  know 
them  from  Mede’s  letters,  was  an  existence  to  which 
only  the  want  of  daily  bread  could  have  driven  Milton. 
Happily  his  father’s  circumstances  were  not  such  as  to 
make  a fellowship  pecuniarily  an  object  to  the  son.  If  he 
longed  for  “ the  studious  cloister’s  pale,”  he  had  been,  now 
for  seven  years,  near  enough  to  college  life  to  have  dis- 
pelled the  dream  that  it  was  a life  of  lettered  leisure  and 
philosophic  retirement.  It  was  just  about  Milton’s  time 
that  the  college  tutor  finally  supplanted  the  university 
professor,  a system  which  implied  the  substitution  of 
excercises  performed  by  the  pupil  for  instruction  given 
by  the  teacher.  Whatever  advantages  this  system 
brought  with  it,  it  brought  inevitably  the  degradation  of 
the  teacher,  who  was  thus  dispensed  from  knowledge, 
having  only  to  attend  to  form.  The  time  of  the  college 
tutor  was  engrossed  by  the  details  of  scholastic  super- 
intendence, and  the  frivolous  worry  of  academical  busi- 
ness. Admissions,  matriculations,  disputations,  declama 
tions,  the  formalities  of  degrees,  public  reception  of  royal 
and  noble  visitors,  filled  every  hour  of  his  day,  and  left 
no  time,  even  if  he  had  had  the  taste,  for  private  study. 
To  teaching,  as  we  shall  see,  Milton  was  far  from  averse. 
But  then  it  must  be  teaching  as  he  understood  it,  a teach- 
ing which  should  expand  the  intellect  and  raise  the  cha- 
racter, not  dexterity  in  playing  with  the  verbal  formulas 
of  the  disputations  of  the  schools. 

Such  an  occupation  could  have  no  attractions  for  one 
who  was  even  now  meditating  II  Pe?iseroso  (composed 
1633).  At  twenty  he  had  already  confided  to  his  school- 
fellow, the  younger  Gill,  the  secret  of  his  discontent 
with  the  Cambridge  tone.  “ Here  among  us,”  he  writes 
from  college,  “ are  barely  one  or  two  who  do  not  flutter 


FIRST  PEEIOD.  1608—1639. 


off,  all  unfledged,  into  theology,  having  gotten  of  philology 
or  of  philosophy  scarce  so  much  as  a smattering.  And 
for  theology  they  are  content  with  just  what  is  enough 
to  enable  them  to  patch  up  a pad  try  sermon.”  He  re- 
tained the  same  feeling  towards  his  Alma  Mater  in  1641, 
when  he  wrote  (Eeason  of  Church  Government),  “ Cam- 
bridge, which  as  in  the  time  of  her  better  health,  and 
mine  own  younger  judgment,  I never  greatly  admired, 
so  now  much  less  . . . .” 

On  a review  of  all  these  indications  of  feeling,  I should 
conclude  that  Milton  never  had  serious  thoughts  of  a 
college  fellowship,  and  that  his  antipathy  arose  from  a 
sense  of  his  own  incompatibility  of  temper  with  academic 
life,  and  was  not,  like  Phineas  Fletcher’s,  the  result  of 
disappointed  hopes,  and  a sense  of  injury  for  having 
been  refused  a fellowship  at  King’s.  One  consideration 
which  remains  to  be  mentioned  would  alone  be  de- 
cisive in  favour  of  this  view.  A fellowship  required 
orders.  Milton  had  been  intended  for  the  church,  and 
had  been  sent  to  college  with  that  view.  By  the 
time  he  left  Cambridge,  at  twenty-four,  it  had  become 
clear,  both  to  himself  and  his  family,  that  he  could 
never  submit  his  understanding  to  the  trammels  of  church 
formularies.  His  later  mind,  about  1641,  is  expressed 
by  himself  in  his  own  forcible  style, — “ The  church,  to 
whose  service  by  the  intention  of  my  parents  and  friends 
I was  destined  of  a child,  and  in  mine  own  resolutions, 
till  coming  to  some  maturity  of  years,  and  perceiving 
what  tyranny  had  invaded  in  the  church,  that  he  who 
would  take  orders  must  subscribe  slave,  and  take  an  oath 
withal.  ...  I thought  it  better  to  prefer  a blameless 
silence  before  the  sacred  office  of  speaking,  bought  and 
begun  with  servitude  and  forswearing.”  When  he  took 




leave  of  the  university,  in  1632,  he  had  perhaps  not 
developed  this  distinct  antipathy  to  the  establishment. 
For  in  a letter,  preserved  in  Trinity  College,  and  written 
in  the  winter  of  1631-32,  he  does  not  put  forward  any 
conscientious  objections  to  the  clerical  profession,  but 
only  apologises  to  the  friend  to  whom  the  letter  is 
addressed,  for  delay  in  making  choice  of  some  profession. 
The  delay  itself  sprung  from  an  unconscious  distaste.  In 
a mind  of  the  consistent  texture  of  Milton’s,  motives  are 
secretly  influential  before  they  emerge  in  consciousness. 
We  shall  not  be  wrong  in  asserting  that  when  he  left 
Cambridge  in  1632,  it  was  already  impossible,  in  the 
nature  of  things,  that  he  should  have  taken  orders  in  the 
Church  of  England,  or  a fellowship  of  which  orders  were 
a condition. 



Milton  had  been  sent  to  college  to  quality  for  a profession. 
The  church,  the  first  intended,  he  had  gradually  dis- 
covered to  be  incompatible.  Of  the  law,  either  his 
father’s  branch,  or  some  other,  he  seems  to  have  enter- 
tained a thought,  but  to  have  speedily  dismissed  it.  So 
at  the  age  of  twenty-four  he  returned  to  his  father’s  house, 
bringing  nothing  with  him  but  his  education  and  a silent 
purpose.  The  elder  Milton  had  now  retired  from  busi- 
ness, with  sufficient  means  but  not  with  wealth.  Though 
John  was  the  eldest  son,  there  were  two  other  children, 
a brother,  Christopher,  and  a sister,  Anne.  To  have  no 
profession,  even  a nominal  one,  to  be  above  trade  and 
below  the  status  of  squire  or  yeoman,  and  to  come  home 
with  the  avowed  object  of  leading  an  idle  life,  was 
conduct  which  required  justification.  Milton  felt  it  to  be 
so.  In  a letter  addressed,  in  1632,  to  some  senior  friend 
at  Cambridge,  name  unknown,  he  thanks  him  for  being 
a a good  watchman  to  admonish  that  the  hours  of  the  night 
pass  on,  for  so  I call  my  life  as  yet  obscure  and  unser- 
viceable to  mankind,  and  that  the  day  with  me  is  at  hand, 

CH.  II.] 



wherein  Christ  commands  all  to  labour.”  Milton  has  no 
misgivings.  He  knows  that  what  he  is  doing  with  him- 
self is  the  best  he  can  do.  His  aim  is  far  above  bread- 
winning, and  therefore  his  probation  must  be  long.  He 
destines  for  himself  no  indolent  tarrying  in  the  garden  of 
Armida.  His  is  a “mind  made  and  set  wholly  on  the 
accomplishment  of  greatest  things.”  He  knows  that  the 
looker-on  will  hardly  accept  his  apology  for  “being  late,” 
that  it  is  in  order  to  being  “ more  fit.”  Yet  it  is  the  only 
apology  he  can  offer.  And  he  is  dissatisfied  with  his  own 
progress.  “ I am  something  suspicious  of  myself,  and  do 
take  notice  of  a certain  belatedness  in  me.” 

Of  this  frame  of  mind  the  record  is  the  second  sonnet, 
lines  which  are  an  inseparable  part  of  Milton’s  biography — 

How  soon  hath  Time,  the  subtle  thief  of  youth, 

Stol’n  on  his  wing  my  three-and- twentieth  year  1 
My  hasting  days  fly  on  with  full  career, 

But  my  late  spring  no  bud  or  blossom  shew’th. 

Perhaps  my  semblance  might  deceive  the  truth 
That  I to  manhood  am  arrived  so  near, 

And  inward  ripeness  doth  much  less  appear, 

That  some  more  timely-happy  spirits  endu’th. 

Yet,  be  it  less  or  more,  or  soon  or  slow, 

It  shall  be  still  in  strictest  measure  even 
To  that  same  lot,  however  mean  or  high, 

Toward  which  Time  leads  me,  and  the  will  of  Heaven. 

All  is,  if  I have  grace  to  use  it  so, 

As  ever  in  my  great  Taskmaster's  eye. 

With  aspirations  thus  vast,  though  unformed,  with 
“ amplitude  of  mind  to  greatest  deeds,”  Milton,  retired  to 
his  father’s  house  in  the  country.  Five  more  years  of 
self-education,  added  to  the  seven  years  of  academical 
residence,  were  not  too  much  for  the  meditation  of  pro- 
jects such  as  Milton  was  already  conceiving.  Years  many 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


more  than  twel  ve,  filled  with  great  events  and  distracting 
interests,  were  to  pass  over  before  the  body  and  shape  of 
Paradise  Lost  was  given  to  these  imaginings. 

The  country  retirement  in  which  the  elder  Milton  had 
fixed  himself  was  the  little  village  of  Horton,  situated  in 
that  southernmost  angle  of  the  county  of  Buckingham, 
which  insinuates  itself  between  Berks  and  Middlesex. 
Though  London  was  only  about  seventeen  miles  distant, 
it  was  the  London  of  Charles  I.,  with  its  population  of 
some  300,000  only;  before  coaches  and  macadamised 
roads ; while  the  Colne,  which  flows  through  the  village, 
was  still  a river,  and  not  the  kennel  of  a paper-mill. 
There  was  no  lack  of  water  and  wood,  meadow  and  pas- 
ture, closes  and  open  field,  with  the  regal  towers  of 
Windsor  “ bosom’d  high  in  tufted  trees,”  to  crown  the 
landscape.  Unbroken  leisure,  solitude,  tranquillity  of 
mind,  surrounded  by  the  thickets  and  woods,  which  Pliny 
thought  indispensable  to  poetical  meditation  (Epist.  9.  10), 
no  poet’s  career  was  ever  commenced  under  more  favour- 
able auspices.  The  youth  of  Milton  stands  in  strong 
contrast  with  the  misery,  turmoil,  chance  medley,  struggle 
with  poverty,  or  abandonment  to  dissipation,  which 
blighted  the  early  years  of  so  many  of  our  men  of  letters. 

Milton’s  life  is  a drama  in  three  acts.  Tl^e  first  dis- 
covers  him  in  the  calm  and  peaceful  retirement  of  Horton, 
of  which  U Allegro,  II  Penseroso , and  Lycidas  are  the 
expression.  In  the  second  act  he  is  breathing  the  foul 
and  heated  atmosphere  of  party  passion  and  religious 
hate,  generating  the  lurid  fires  which  glare  in  the  bat- 
tailous canticles  of  his  prose  pamphlets.  The  three  great 
poems,  Paradise  Lost , Paradise  Regained , and  Samson 
AgonisteSy  are  the  utterance  of  his  final  period  of  solitary 
and  Promethean  grandeur,  when,  blind,  destitute,  friend- 



less,  he  testified  of  righteousness,  temperance,  and  judg- 
ment to  come,  alone  before  a fallen  world. 

In  this  delicious  retirement  of  Horton,  in  alternate 
communing  with  nature  and  with  books,  for  five  years  of 
persevering  study  he  laid  in  a stock,  not  of  learning,  but 
of  what  is  far  above  learning,  of  wide  and  accurate  know- 
ledge. Of  the  man  whose  profession  is  learning,  it  is 
characteristic  that  knowledge  is  its  own  end,  and  research 
its  own  reward.  To  Milton  all  knowledge,  all  life,  virtue 
itself,  was  already  only  a means  to  a further  end.  He  will 
know  only  “that  which  is  of  use  to  know,”  and  by  useful, 
he  meant  that  which  conduced  to  form  him  for  his  vocation 
of  poet. 

From  a very  early  period  Milton  had  taken  poetry  to 
be  his  vocation,  in  the  most  solemn  and  earnest  mood. 
The  idea  of  this  devotion  was  the  shaping  idea  of  his  life. 
It  was,  indeed,  a bent  of  nature,  with  roots  drawing 
from  deeper  strata  of  character  than  any  act  of  reasoned 
will,  which  kept  him  out  of  the  professions,  and  now  fixed 
him,  a seeming  idler,  but  really  hard  at  work,  in  his 
father’s  house  at  Horton.  The  intimation  which  he  had 
given  of  his  purpose  in  the  sonnet  above  quoted  had  be- 
come, in  1641,  “an  inward  prompting  which  grows  daily 
upon  me,  that  by  labour  and  intent  study,  which  I take  to 
be  my  portion  in  this  life,  joined  with  the  strong  propen- 
sity of  nature,  I might  perhaps  leave  something  so  written 
to  after  times,  as  they  should  not  willingly  let  it  die.” 

What  the  ultimate  form  of  his  poetic  utterance  shall  be, 
he  is  in  no  hurry  to  decide.  He  will  be  “ long  choosing,” 
and  quite  content  to  be  “ beginning  late.”  All  his  care 
at  present  is  to  qualify  himself  for  the  lofty  function  to 
which  he  aspires.  No  lawyer,  physician,  statesman,  evei 
laboured  to  fit  himself  for  his  profession  harder  than 


FIRST  PERIOD  1608—1639. 


Milton  strove  to  qualify  himself  for  his  vocation  of  poet. 
Verse-making  is,  to  the  wits,  a game  of  ingenuity  ; to 
Milton,  it  is  a prophetic  office,  towards  which  the  will 
of  heaven  leads  him.  The  creation  he  contemplates  will 
not  flow  from  him  as  the  stanzas  of  the  Gerusalemme  did 
from  Tasso  at  twenty-one.  Before  he  can  make  a poem, 
Milton  will  make  himself.  “I  was  confirmed  in  this 
opinion,  that  he  who  would  not  he  frustrated  of  his  hope 
to  write  well  hereafter  in  laudable  things  ought  himself  to 
be  a true  poem  ....  not  presuming  to  sing  high  praises 
of  heroic  men  or  famous  cities,  unless  he  have  in  himself 
the  experience  and  practice  of  all  that  which  is  praise- 

Of  the  spontaneity,  the  abandon,  which  are  supposed 
to  be  characteristic  of  the  poetical  nature,  there  is  nothing 
here  ; all  is  moral  purpose,  precision,  self-dedication.  So 
he  acquires  all  knowledge,  not  for  knowledge7  sake,  from 
the  instinct  of  learning,  the  necessity  for  completeness, 
but  because  he  is  to  be  a poet.  Hor  will  he  only  have 
knowledge,  he  will  have  wisdom ; moral  development  shall 
go  hand  in  hand  with  intellectual.  A poet’s  soul  should 
“ contain  of  good,  wise,  just,  the  perfect  shape.”  He  will 
cherish  continually  a pure  mind  in  a pure  body.  “ I 
argued  to  myself  that,  if  unchastity  in  a woman,  whom 
St.  Paul  terms  the  glory  of  man,  be  such  a scandal  and 
dishonour,  then  certainly  in  a man,  who  is  both  the 
image  and  glory  of  God,  it  must,  though  commonly  not 
so  thought,  be  much  more  deflouring  and  dishonourable.” 
There  is  yet  a third  constituent  of  the  poetical  nature  ; to 
knowledge  and  to  virtue  must  be  added  religion.  For  it 
is  from  God  that  the  poet’s  thoughts  come.  “This  is 
not  to  be  obtained  but  by  devout  prayer  to  that  Eternal 
Spirit  that  can  enrich  with  all  utterance  and  knowledge, 




and  sends  out  his  seraphim  with  the  hallowed  fire  of 
his  altar,  to  touch  and  purify  the  life  of  whom  he 
pleases.  To  this  must  he  added  industrious  and  select 
reading,  steady  observation,  and  insight  into  all  seemly 
and  generous  acts  and  affairs  ; till  which  in  some  measure 
he  compast,  I refuse  not  to  sustain  this  expectation.” 
Before  the  piety  of  this  vow,  Dr.  Johnson’s  morosity 
yields  for  a moment,  and  he  is  forced  to  exclaim,  “ From 
a promise  like  this,  at  once  fervid,  pious,  and  rational, 
might  he  expected  the  Paradise  Lost  .” 

Of  these  years  of  self-cultivation,  of  conscious  moral 

architecture,  such  as  Plato  enacted  for  his  ideal  State,  hut 
none  hut  Milton  ever  had  the  courage  to  practise,  the 
biographer  would  gladly  give  a minute  account.  But  the 
means  of  doing  so  are  wanting.  The  poet  kept  no  diary 
of  his  reading,  such  as  some  great  students,  e.  g.  Isaac 
Casaubon,  have  left.  Nor  could  such  a record,  had  it 
been  attempted,  have  shown  ns  the  secret  process  by 
which  the  scholar’s  dead  learning  was  transmuted  in 
Milton’s  mind  into  living  imagery.  u Many  studious  and 
contemplative  years,  altogether  spent  in  the  search  of  re- 
ligious and  civil  knowledge  ” is  his  own  description  of  the 
period.  “ You  make  many  inquiries  as  to  what  I am 
about;”  he  writes  to  Diodati — “ what  am  I thinking  of  % 
Why,  with  God’s  help,  of  immortality ! Forgive  the 
word,  I only  whisper  it  in  your  ear  ! Yes,  X am  pluming 
my  wings  for  a flight.”  This  was  in  1637,  at  the  end  of 
flve  years  of  the  Horton  probation.  The  poems,  which, 
rightly  read,  are  strewn  with  autobiographical  hints,  are 
not  silent  as  to  the  intention  of  this  period.  In  Paradise 
Regained  (i.  196),  Milton  reveals  himself.  And  in 
Comus , written  at  Horton,  the  lines  375  and  following 
are  charged  with  the  same  sentiment, — 



FIRST  PERIOD.  1608-1639. 


And  wisdom’s  self 
Gfb  seeks  to  sweet  retired  solitude, 

Where,  with  her  best  nurse,  contemplation, 

She  plumes  her  feathers,  and  lets  grow  her  wings. 

That  in  the  various  bustle  of  resort 
Were  all -to  rallied  and  sometimes  impair’d. 

That  at  Horton  Milton  " read  all  the  Greek  and  Latin 
writers”  is  one  of  Johnson’s  careless  versions  of  Milton’s 
own  words,  “ enjoyed  a complete  holiday  in  turning  over 
Latin  and  Greek  authors.”  Milton  read,  not  as  a pro- 
fessional phi  lologian,  hut  as  a poet  and  scholar,  and  always 
in  the  light  of  his  secret  purpose.  It  was  not  in  his  way 
to  sit  down  to  read  over  all  the  Greek  and  Latin  writers, 
as  Casaubon  or  Salmasius  might  do.  Milton  read  with 
selection,  and  “ meditated,”  says  Aubrey,  what  he  read. 
His  practice  conformed  to  the  principle  he  has  himself 
laid  down  in  the  often-quoted  lines  (Paradise  Regained , 
iv.  322)— 

Who  reads 

Incessantly,  and  to  his  reading  brings  not 
A spirit  and  judgment  equal  or  superior, 

Uncertain  and  unsettled  still  remains, 

Deep  vers’d  in  books,  and  shallow  in  himself. 

Some  of  Milton’s  Greek  books  have  been  traced ; his 
Aratus , Lycophron , Euripides  (the  Stephanus  of  1602), 
and  his  Pindar  (the  Benedictus  of  1620),  are  still  extant, 
with  marginal  memoranda,  which  should  seem  to  evince 
careful  and  discerning  reading.  One  critic  even  thought 
it  worth  while  to  accuse  Joshua  Barnes  of  silently  appro- 
priating conjectural  emendations  from  Milton’s  Euripides. 
But  Milton’s  own  poems  are  the  best  evidence  of  his 
familiarity  with  all  that  is  most  choice  in  the  remains  of 
classic  poetry.  Though  the  commentators  are  accused  of 
often  seeing  an  imitation  where  there  is  none,  no  com- 




mentary  can  point  out  the  ever-present  infusion  of  clas- 
sical flavour,  which  bespeaks  intimate  converse  far  more 
than  direct  adaptation.  Milton’s  classical  allusions,  says 
Hartley  Coleridge,  are  amalgamated  and  consubstantiated 
with  his  native  thought. 

A commonplace  book  of  Milton’s,  after  having  lurked 
unsuspected  for  200  years  in  the  archives  of  Netherby, 
has  been  disinterred  in  our  own  day  (1874).  It  appears 
to  belong  partly  to  the  end  of  the  Horton  period.  It  is 
not  by  any  means  an  account  of  all  that  he  is  reading, 
but  only  an  arrangement,  under  certain  heads,  or  places 
of  memoranda  for  future  use.  These  notes  are  extracted 
from  about  eighty  different  authors,  Greek,  Latin,  French, 
Italian,  and  English.  Of  Greek  authors  no  less  than 
sixteen  are  quoted.  The  notes  are  mostly  notes  of  his- 
torical facts,  seldom  of  thoughts,  never  of  mere  verbal 
expression.  There  is  no  trace  in  it  of  any  intention  to 
store  up  either  the  imagery  or  the  language  of  poetry.  It 
may  be  that  such  notes  were  made  and  entered  in  another 
volume ; for  the  book  thus  accidentally  preserved  to  us 
seems  to  refer  to  other  similar  volumes  of  collections. 
But  it  is  more  likely  that  no  such  poetical  memoranda 
were  ever  made,  and  that  Milton  trusted  entirely  to 
memory  for  the  wealth  of  classical  allusion  with  which 
his  verse  is  surcharged.  He  did  not  extract  from  the 
poets  and  tire  great  writers  whom  he  was  daily  turning 
over,  but  only  from  the  inferior  authors  and  secondary 
historians,  which  he  read  only  once.  Most  of  the  material 
collected  in  the  commonplace  book  is  used  in  his  prose 
pamphlets.  But  when  so  employed  the  facts  are  worked 
into  the  texture  of  his  argument,  rather  than  cited  as 
extraneous  witnesses. 

In  reading  history  it  was  his  aim  to  get  at  a conspectus  of 


FrRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


the  general  current  of  affairs  rather  than  to  study  minutely 
a special  period.  He  tells  Diodati  in  September,  1637, 
that  he  has  studied  Greek  history  continuously,  from  the 
beginning  to  the  fall  of  Constantinople.  When  he  tells 
the  same  friend  that  he  has  been  long  involved  in  the 
obscurity  of  the  early  middle  ages  of  Italian  History  down 
to  the  time  of  the  Emperor  Rudolph,  we  learn  from  the 
commonplace  book  that  he  had  only  been  reading  the  one 
volume  of  Sigonius’s  Hist  aria  Regni  Italici.  From  the 
thirteenth  century  downwards  he  proposes  to  himself  to 
study  each  Italian  state  in  some  separate  history.  Even 
before  his  journey  to  Italy  he  read  Italian  with  as  much 
ease  as  French.  He  tells  us  that  it  was  by  his  father's  ad- 
vice that  he  had  acquired  these  modern  languages.  But  we 
can  see  that  they  were  essential  parts  of  his  own  scheme 
of  self-education,  which  included,  in  another  direction, 
Hebrew,  both  Biblical  and  Rabbinical,  and  even  Syriac. 

The  intensity  of  his  nature  showed  itself  in  his  method 
of  study.  He  read,  not  desultorily,  a bit  here  and 
another  there,  but  “when  I take  up  with  a thing,  I 
never  pause  or  break  it  off,  nor  am  drawn  away  from  it 
by  any  other  interest,  till  I have  arrived  at  the  goal  I 
proposed  to  myself.”  He  made  breaks  occasionally  in 
this  routine  of  study  by  visits  to  London,  to  see  friends, 
to  buy  books,  to  take  lessons  in  mathematics,  to  go  to  the 
theatre,  or  to  concerts.  A love  of  music  was  inherited 
from  his  father. 

I have  called  this  period,  1632-39,  one  of  preparation 

and_not  of  production. But  though  the  first  volume  of 

poems  printed  by  Milton  did  not  appear  till  1645,  the 
most  considerable  part  of  its  contents  was  written  during 
the  period  included  in  the  present  chapter. 

The  fame  of  the  author  of  Paradise  Lost  has  over- 




shadowed  that  of  the  author  of  L’ Allegro,  11  Penseroso , 
and  Lycidas . Yet  had  Paradise  Lost  never  been 
written,  these  three  poems,  with  Comus,  would  have 
sufficed  to  place  their  author  in  a class  apart,  and  above 
all  those  who  had  used  the  English  language  for  poetical 
purposes  before  him.  It  is  incumbent  on  Milton’s  bio- 
grapher to  relate  the  circumstances  of  the  composition  of 
Comus , as  it  is  an  incident  in  the  life  of  the  poet. 

Milton’s  musical  tastes  had  brought  him  the  acquain- 
tance of  Henry  Lawes,  at  that  time  the  most  celebrated 
composer  in  England.  When  the  Earl  of  Bridgewater 
would  give  an  entertainment  at  Ludlow  Castle  to  celebrate 
his  entry  upon  his  office  as  President  of  Wales  and  the 
Marches,  it  was  to  Lawes  that  application  was  made  to 
furnish  the  music.  Lawes,  as  naturally,  applied  to  his 
young  poetical  acquaintance  Milton,  to  write  the  words. 
The  entertainment  was  to  be  of  that  sort  which  was 
fashionable  at  court,  and  was  called  a Mask.  In  that 
brilliant  period  of  court  life  which  was  inaugurated  by 
Elisabeth  and  put  an  end  to  by  the  Civil  War,  a Mask 
was  a frequent  and  favourite  amusement.  It  was  an 
exhibition  in  which  pageantry  and  music  predominated, 
but  in  which  dialogue  was  introduced  as  accompaniment 
or  explanation. 

The  dramatic  Mask  of  the  sixteenth  century  has  been 
traced  by  the  antiquaries  as  far  back  as  the  time  of 
Edward  III.  But  in  its  perfected  shape  it  was  a genuine 
offspring  of  the  English  renaissance,  a cross  between  the 
vernacular  mummery,  or  mystery-play,  and  the  Greek 
drama.  JSTo  great  court  festival  was  considered  complete 
without  such  a public  show.  Many  of  our  great  dramatic 
writers,  Beaumont,  Fletcher,  Ben  Jonson,  Middleton, 
Dekker,  Shirley,  Carew,  were  constrained  by  the  fashion 

22  FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639.  [chap 

of  the  time  to  apply  their  invention  to  gratify  this  taste 
for  decorative  representation.  No  less  an  artist  than 
Inigo  Jones  must  occasionally  stoop  to  construct  the 


The  taste  for  grotesque  pageant  in  the  open  air  must 
have  gradually  died  out  before  the  general  advance  of 
refinement.  The  Mask  by  a process  of  evolution  would 
have  become  the  Opera.  But  it  often  happens  that  when 
a taste  or  fashion  is  at  the  point  of  death,  it  undergoes 
a forced  and  temporary  revival.  So  it  was  with  the 
Mask.  In  1633,  the  Puritan  hatred  to  the  theatre  had 
blazed  out  in  Prynne’s  Histriomastix , and  as  a natural 
consequence,  the  loyal  and  cavalier  portion  of  society 
threw  itself  into  dramatic  amusements  of  every  kind 
It  was  an  unreal  revival  of  the  Mask,  stimulated  by 
political  passion,  in  the  wane  of  genuine  taste  for  the 
fantastic  and  semi-barbarous  pageant,  in  which  the  former 
age  had  delighted.  What  the  imagination  of  the  specta- 
tors was  no  longer  equal  to,  was  to  be  supplied  by  costli- 
ness of  dress  and  scenery.  These  last  representations  of 
the  expiring  Mask  were  the  occasions  of  an  extravagant 
outlay.  The  Inns  of  Court  and  Whitehall  vied  with 
each  other  in  the  splendour  and  solemnity  with  which 
they  brought  out,— the  Lawyers,  Shirley’s  Triumph  of 
Peace , — the  Court,  Carew’s  Caelum  Britannicum. 

It  was  a strange  caprice  of  fortune  that  made  the  future 
poet  of  the  Puritan  epic  the  last  composer  of  a cavalier 
mask.  The  slight  plot,  or  story,  of  Comus  was  probably 
suggested  to  Milton  by  his  recollection  of  George  Peele’s 
Otd  Wives 7 Tale , which  he  may  have  seen  on  the 
stage.  The  personage  of  Comus  was  borrowed  from  a 
Latin  extravaganza  by  a Dutch  professor,  whose  Comm 
was  reprinted  at  Oxford  in  1634,  the  very  year  in  which 




Milton  wrote  his  Mask . The  so-called  tradition  col* 

lected  by  Oldys,  of  the  young  Egertons,  who  acted  in 
Comus , haying  lost  themselves  in  Haywood  Forest  on 
their  way  to  Ludlow,  obviously  grew  out  of  Milton’s 
poem.  However  casual  the  suggestion,  or  unpromising 
the  occasion,  Milton  worked  out  of  it  a strain  of  poetry 
such  as  had  never  been  heard  in  England  before.  If  any 
reader  wishes  to  realise  the  immense  step  upon  what  had 
gone  before  him,  which  was  now  made  by  a young  man 
of  twenty-seven,  he  should  turn  over  some  of  the  most 
celebrated  of  the  masks  of  the  Jacobean  period. 

We  have  no  information  how  Comas  was  received 
when  represented  at  Ludlow,  but  it  found  a ptiblic  of 
readers.  For  Lawes,  who  had  the  MS.  in  his  hands,  was 
so  importuned  for  copies  that,  in  1637,  he  caused  an 
edition  to  be  printed  off.  Hot  surreptitiously ; for  though 
Lawes  does  not  say,  in  the  dedication  to  Lord  Brackley, 
that  he  had  the  author’s  leave  to  print,  we  are  sure  that 
he  had  it,  only  from  the  motto.  On  the  title  page  of  this 
edition  (1637),  is  the  line,— 

Eiieu ! quid  volui  miser o mihi  ! floribus  austrum 

Perditu3 — 

The  words  are  Virgil’s,  but  the  appropriation  of  them, 
and  their  application  in  this  “ second  intention”  is  too 
exquisite  to  have  been  made  by  any  but  Milton. 

To  the  poems  of  the  Horton  period  belong  also  the 
two  pieces  II Allegro  and  II  Penseroso , and  Lycidas . He 
was  probably  in  the  early  stage  of  acquiring  the  language, 
when  he  superscribed  the  two  first  poems  with  their 
Italian  titles.  For  there  is  no  such  word  as  “ Penseroso,” 
the  adjective  formed  from  “Pensiero  ” being  “pensieroso.” 
Even  had  the  word  been  written  correctly,  its  significa- 

24  FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639.  [chap. 

tion  is  not  that  which  Milton  intended,  viz.  thoughtful, 
or  contemplative,  but  anxious,  full  of  cares,  cark- 
ing.  The  rapid  purification  of  Milton’s  taste  will  be 
best  perceived  by  comparing  LI Allegro  and  II  Pense- 
roso  of  uncertain  date,  but  written  after  1632,  with 
the  Ode  on  the  Nativity , written  1629.  The  Ode,  not- 
withstanding its  foretaste  of  Milton’s  grandeur,  abounds  in 
frigid  conceits,  from  which  the  two  later  pieces  are 
free.  TJheOde  is  frosty,  as  written  in  winter,  within  the 
four  walls  of  a college  chamber.  Th^woTdyHs  breathe 
tii^lrefilur  of  spring^and^summer,  and  of  the  fields  round 
Horton.  'They  are ' thoroughly'  hliim^ 
expression  our  language  has  yet  found  of  the  fresh  charm 
of  country  life,  not  as  that  life  is  lived  by  the  peasant, 
but  as  it  is  felt  by  a young  and  lettered  student,  issuing 
at  early  dawn,  or  at  sunset,  into  the  fields  from  his 
chamber  and  his  books.  All  rural  sights  and  sounds  and 
smells  are  here  blended  in  that  ineffable  combination, 
which  once  or  twice  perhaps  in  our  lives  has  saluted  our 
young  senses  before  their  perceptions  were  blunted  by 
alcohol,  by  lust,  or  ambition,  or  diluted  by  the  social 
distractions  of  great  cities. 

The  fidelity  to  nature  of  the  imagery  of  these  poems 
has  been  impugned  by  the  critics. 

Then  to  come,  in  spite  of  sorrow, 

And  at  my  window  bid  good  morrow. 

The  skylark  never  approaches  human  habitations  in  this 
way,  as  the  redbreast  does.  Mr.  Masson  replies  that  the 
subject  of  the  verb  “to  come”  is,  not  the  skylark,  but 
1/ Allegro,  the  joyous  student.  I cannot  construe  the 
lines  as  Mr.  Masson  does,  even  though  the  consequence 
were  to  convict  Milton,  a city-bred  youth,  of  not  knowing 
a skylark  from  a sparrow  when  he  saw  it.  A close 
observer  of  things  around  us  would  not  speak  of  the 




eglantine  as  twisted,  of  the  cowslip  as  wan,  of  the 
violet  as  glowing,  or  of  the  reed  as  balmy.  Lyonias’ 
laureate  hearse  is  to  be  strewn  at  once  with  primrose  and 
woodbine,  daffodil  and  jasmine.  When  we  read  “the 
rathe  primrose  that  forsaken  dies/’  we  see  that  the  poet 
is  recollecting  Shakespeare  (Winter’s  Tale,  4.  4),  not 
looking  at  the  primrose.  The  pine  is  not  “ rooted  deep 
as  high”  (P.  B.  4416),  but  sends  its  roots  along  the 
surface.  The  elm,  one  of  the  thinnest  foliaged  trees  of 
the  forest,  is  inappropriately  named  starproof  (Arc.  89). 
Lightning  does  not  singe  the  tops  of  trees  (P.  L.  i.  613), 
but  either  shivers  them,  or  cuts  a groove  down  the  stem 
to  the  ground.  These  and  other  such  like  inaccuracies 
must  be  set  down  partly  to  conventional  language  used 
without  meaning,  the  vice  of  Latin  versification  enforced 
as  a task,  but  they  are  partly  due  to  real  defect  of  natural 

Other  objections  of  the  critics  on  the  same  score, 
which  may  be  met  with,  are  easily  dismissed.  The 
objector,  who  can  discover  no  reason  why  the  oak  should 
be  styled  “ monumental,”  meets  with  his  match  in  the 
defender  who  suggests,  that  it  may  be  rightly  so  called 
because  monuments  in  churches  are  made  of  oak.  I 
should  tremble  to  have  to  offer  an  explanation  to  critics 
of  Milton  so  acute  as  these  two.  But  of  less  ingenious 
readers  I would  ask,  if  any  single  word  can  be  found 
equal  to  “ monumental  ” in  its  power  of  suggesting  to 
the  imagination  the  historic  oak  of  park  or  chase,  up  to 
the  knees  in  fern,  which  has  outlasted  ten  generations  of 
men ; has  been  the  mute  witness  of  the  scenes  of  love, 
treachery,  or  violence  enacted  in  the  baronial  hall  which 
it  shadows  and  protects ; and  has  been  so  associated  with 
man,  that  it  is  now  rather  a column  and  memorial  obelisk 
than  a tree  of  the  forest  ? 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


These  are  the  humours  of  criticism.  But,  apart  from 
these,  a naturalist  is  at  once  aware  that  Milton  had 
neither  the  eye  nor  the  ear  of  a naturalist.  At-iuijd?16? 
even  before  his  loss  of  sight,  was  he  an  exact  observer 
of  natural  ol)j  ects^^  he  knew  a skylark 

from  a redbreast,  and  did  not  confound  the  dog-rose  with 
the  honeysuckle.  But  I am  sure  that  he  had  never 
acquired  that  interest  in  nature’s  things  and  ways,  which 
leads  to  close  and  loving  watching  of  them.  He  had  not 
that  sense  of  outdoor  nature,  empirical  and  not  scientific, 
which  endows  the  Angler  of  his  cotemporary  Walton, 
with  its  enduring  charm,  and  which  is  to  be  acquired 
only  by  living  in  the  open  country  in  childhood.  Milton 
is  not  a man  of  the  fields,  but  of  books.  His  life  is  in 
His  study,  and  whehHfre  ^BtSps^broad^^nto  the  air  he 
carmT^  him.  He  does  look  at 

na^u?ep4ait^  through  books.  Natural  im- 

pressions are  received  from  without,  but  always  in  those 
forms  of  beautiful  speech,  in  which  the  poets  of  all  ages 
have  clothed  them.  His  epithets  are  not,  like  the  epithets 
of  the  school  of  Dryden  and  Pope,  culled  from  the  Gradus 
ad  Parnassum  ; they  are  expressive  of  some  reality,  but  it 
is  of  a real  emotion  in  the  spectator’s  soul,  not  of  any 
quality  detected  by  keen  insight  in  the  objects  themselves. 
This  emotion  Milton’s  art  stamps  with  an  epithet,  which 
shall  convey  the  added  charm  of  classical  reminiscence. 
When,  e.g.,  he  speaks  of  “ the  wand’ring  moon,”  the 
original  significance  of  the  epithet  comes  home  to  the 
scholarly  reader  with  the  enhanced  effect  of  its  association 
with  the  “ errantem  lunam  ” of  VirgiL  Nor  because  it 
is  adopted  from  Virgil  has  the  epithet  here  the  second- 
hand effect  of  a copy.  If  Milton  sees  nature  through 
books,  he  still  sees  it* 




To  behold  the  waud’rrng  moon, 

Riding  near  her  highest  noon, 

Like  one  that  had  been  led  astray, 
Through  the  heaven’s  wide  pathless  way, 
And  oft,  as  if  her  head  she  bow’d. 
Stooping  through  a fleecy  clouc 

No  allegation  that  “ wand’ring  moon  i»  uorrowed  from 
Horace  can  hide  from  us  that  Milton,  though  he  remem- 
bered Horace,  had  watched  the  phenomenon  with  a feel- 
ing so  intense  that  he  projected  his  own  soul’s  throb  into 
the  object  before  him,  and  named  it  with  what  Thomson 
calls  “ recollected  love.” 

Milton’s  attitude  towards  nature  is  not  that  of  a scien- 
tific naturalist,  nor  even  thatofiA  close  observer.  It  is 
that  of  a poet  who  feels  its  total  influence  too  powerfully 
to  dissect  it.  If,  as  I have  laid,  Milton  reads  hooks  first 
and  nature  afterwards,  it  is  not  to  test  nature  by  his 
books,  but  to  learn  from  both.  He  is  learning  not  books, 
but  from  books.  All  he  reads,  sees,  hears,  is  to  him  but 
nutriment  for  the  soul.  He  is  making  himself.  Man  is 
to  him  the  highest  object ; nature  is  subordinate  to  man, 
not  only  in  its  more  vulgar  uses,  but  as  an  excitant  of 
fine  emotion.  He  'is  not  concerned  to  register  the  facts 
and  phenomena  of  nature,  but  to  convey  the  impressions 
they  make  on  a sensitive  soul.  The  external  forms  of 
things  are  to  be  presented  to  us  as  transformed  through 
the  heart  and  mind  of  the  poet.  The  moon  is  endowed 
with  life  and  will,  “ stooping,”  “ riding,”  “wand’ring,” 
“bowing  her  head,”  not  as  a frigid  personification,  and 
because  the  ancient  poets  so  personified  her,  but  by  com- 
munication to  her  of  the  intense  agitation  which  the 
nocturnal  spectacle  rouses  in  the  poet’s  own  breast. 

I have  sometimes  read  that  these  two  idylls  are  “ mas- 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


terpieces  of  description.  ” Other  critics  will  ask  if  in 
the  scenery  of  V Allegro  and  II  Penseroso  Milton  has 
described  the  country  about  Horton,  in  Bucks,  or  that 
about  Forest  Hill,  in  Oxfordshire  ; and  will  object  that  the 
Chiltern  Hills  are  not  high  enough  for  clouds  to  rest 
upon  their  top,  much  less  upon  their  breast.  But  he  has 
left  out  the  pollard  willows,  says  another  censor,  and  the 
lines  of  pollard  willow  are  the  prominent  feature  in  the 
valley  of  the  Colne,  even  more  so  than  the  “ hedgerow 
elms.”  Does  the  line  “ Walk  the  studious  cloister’s  pale,” 
mean  St.  Paul’s  or  Westminster  Abbey  1 When  these 
things  can  continue  to  be  asked,  it  is  hardly  superfluous 
to  continue  to  repeat,  that  truth  of  fact  and  poetical  truth 
are  two  different  things.  Milton’s  attitude  towards  nature 
is  not  that  of  a “ descriptive  poet/’  if  indeed  the  phrase 
be  not  a self-contradiction. 

In  Milton,  nature  is  not  put  forward  as  the  poet’s 
theme.  His  theme  is  man,  in  the  two  contrasted  moods  of 
joyous  emotion,  or  grave  reflection  The  shifting  scenery 
ministers  to  the  varying  mood.  Thomson,  in  the  Sea- 
sons (1726),  sets  himself  to  render  natural  phenomena 
as  they  truly  are.  He  has  left  us  a vivid  presentation 
in  gorgeous  language  of  the  naturalistic  calendar  of  the 
changing  year.  Milton,  in  these  two  idylls,  has  recorded  a 
day  of  twenty-four  hours.  But  he  has  not  registered  the 
phenomena ; he  places  us  at  the  standpoint  of  the  man 
before  whom  they  deploy.  And  the  man,  joyous  or 
melancholy,  is  not  a bare  spectator  of  them;  he  is  the 
student,  compounded  of  sensibility  and  intelligence,  of 
whom  we  are  not  told  that  he  saw  so  and  so,  or  that  he 
felt  so,  but  with  whom  we  are  made  copartners  of  his 
thoughts  and  feeling.  Description  melts  into  emotion, 
and  contemplation  bodies  itself  in  imagery.  All  the 




charm  of  rural  life  is  there,  hut  it  is  not  tendered  to  us 
in  the  form  of  a landscape ; the  scenery  is  subordinated 
to  the  human  figure  in  the  centre. 

These  two  short  idylls  are  marked  by  a gladsome  spon- 
taneity which  never  came  to  Milton  again.  The  delicate 
fancy  and  feeling  which  play  about  L Allegro  and  II 
Penseroso  never  reappear,  and  form  a strong  contrast  to 
the  austere  imaginings  of  his  later  poetical  period.  These 
two  poems  have  the  freedom  and  frolic,  the  natural  grace 
of  movement,  the  improvisation,  of  the  best  Elizabethan 
examples,  while  both  thoughts  and  words  are  under  a 
strict  economy  unknown  to  the  diffuse  exuberance  of  the 

In  Lycidas  (1637)  we  have  reached  the  high-water 
mark  of  English  Poesy  and  of  Milton’s  own  production. 
A period  of  a century  and  a half  was  to  elapse  before 
poetry  in  England  seemed,  in  Wordsworth’s  Ode  on  Im- 
mortality (1807),  to  be  rising  again  towards  the  level 
of  inspiration  which  it  had  once  attained  in  Lycidas . 
And  in  the  development  of  the  Miltonic  genius  this 
wonderful  dirge  marks  the  culminating  point.  As  the 
twin  idylls  of  1632  show  a great  advance  upon  the  OdG 
on  the  Nativity  (1629),  the  growth  of  the  poetic  mind 
during  the  five  years  which  follow  1632  is  registered  in 
Lycidas.  Like  the  L Allegro  and  II  Penseroso , Lycidas 
is  laid  out  on  the  lines  of  the  accepted  pastoral  fiction ; 
like  them  it  offers  exquisite  touches  of  idealised  rural 
life.  But  Lycidas  opens  up  a deeper  vein  of  feeling,  a 
patriot  passion  so  vehement  and  dangerous,  that,  like 
that  which  stirred  the  Hebrew  prophet,  it  is  compelled 
to  veil  itself  from  power,  or  from  sympathy,  in  utterance 
made  purposely  enigmatical.  The  passage  which  begins 
“ Last  came  and  last  did  go,”  raises  in  us  a thrill  of 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


awe-struck  expectation  which  I can  only  compare  with 
that  excited  by  the  Cassandra  of  iEschylus’s  Agamem- 
non. For  the  reader  to  feel  this,  he  must  have  present  in 
memory  the  circumstances  of  England  in  1637.  He 
must  place  himself  as  far  as  possible  in  the  situation  of  a 
cotemporary.  The  study  of  Milton’s  poetry  compels  the 
study  of  his  time;  and  Professor  Masson’s  six  volumes 
are  not  too  much  to  enable  us  to  understand  that  there 
were  real  causes  for  the  intense  passion  which  glows 
underneath  the  poet’s  words — a passion  which  unex- 
plained would  be  thought  to  be  intrusive. 

The  historical  exposition  must  be  gathered  from  the 
English  history  of  the  period,  which  may  be  read  in 
Professor  Masson’s  excellent  summary.  All  I desire  to 
point  out  here  is,  that  in  Lycidas , Milton’s  original  pic- 
turesque vein  is  for  the  first  time  crossed  with  one  of 
quite  another  sort,  stern,  determined,  obscurely  indicative 
of  suppressed  passion,  and  the  resolution  to  do  or  die. 
The  fanaticism  of  the  covenanter  and  the  sad  grace  of 
Petrarch  seem  to  meet  in  Milton’s  monody.  Yet  these 
opposites,  instead  of  neutralising  each  other,  are  blended 
into  one  harmonious  whole  by  the  presiding,  but  invisible, 
genius  of  the  poet.  The  conflict  between  the  old  cavalier 
world — the  years  of  gaiety  and  festivity  of  a splendid  and 
pleasure-loving  court,  and  the  new  puritan  world  into 
which  love  and  pleasure  were  not  to  enter — this  conflict 
which  was  commencing  in  the  social  life  of  England,  is 
also  begun  in  Milton’s  own  breast,  and  is  reflected  in 

For  we  were  nurs’d  upon  the  self-same  hilL 

Here  is  the  sweet  mournfulness  of  the  Spenserian  time, 
upon  whose  joys  Death  is  the  only  intruder.  Pass  on- 

a.]  LYCIDA8.  31 

ward  a little,  and  you  are  in  presence  of  the  tremendous 
Two-handed  engine  at  the  door, 

the  terror  of  which  is  enhanced  by  its  obscurity.  We 
are  very  sure  that  the  avenger  is  there,  though  we  know 
not  who  he  is.  In  these  thirty  lines  we  have  the  pre- 
luding mutterings  of  the  storm  which  was  to  sweep  away 
mask  and  revel  and  song,  to  inhibit  the  drama,  and 
suppress  poetry.  In  the  earlier  poems  Milton’s  muse  has 
sung  in  the  tones  of  the  age  that  is  passing  away ; the 
poet  is,  except  in  his  austere  chastity,  a cavalier.  Though 
even  in  JO. Allegro  Dr.  Johnson  truly  detects  **some 
melancholy  in  his  mirth,”  In  Lycidas , for  a moment,  the 
tones  of  both  ages,  the  past  and  the  coming,  are  combined, 
and  then  Milton  leaves  behind  him  for  ever  the  golden 
age,  and  one  half  of  his  poetic  genius.  He  never  ful- 
filled the  promise  with  which  Lycidas  concludes*  “ Ta 
morrow  to  fresh  woods  and  pastures  new,” 



Before  1632  Milton  had  begun  to  learn  Italian.  His 
mind,  just  then  open  on  all  sides  to  impressions  from 
books,  was  peculiarly  attracted  by  Italian  poetry.  The 
language  grew  to  be  loved  for  its  own  sake.  Saturated 
as  he  was  with  Dante  and  Petrarch,  Tasso  and  Ariosto, 
the  desire  arose  to  let  the  ear  drink  in  the  music  of 
Tuscan  speech. 

The  “ unhappy  gift  of  beauty/’  which  has  attracted  the 
spoiler  of  all  ages  to  the  Italian  peninsula,  has  ever  exerted, 
and  still  exerts,  a magnetic  force  on  every  cultivated  mind. 
Manifold  are  the  sources  of  this  fascination  now.  The 
scholar  and  the  artist,  the  antiquarian  and  the  historian, 
the  architect  and  the  lover  of  natural  scenery,  alike  find 
here  the  amplest  gratification  of  their  tastes.  This  is  so 
still ; but  in  the  sixteenth  century  the  Italian  cities  were 
the  only  homes  of  an  ancient  and  decaying  civilization. 
Not  insensible  to  other  impressions,  it  was  specially  the 
desire  of  social  converse  with  the  living  poets  and  men  of 
taste — a feeble  generation,  but  one  still  nourishing  the 
traditions  of  the  great  poetic  age — which  drew  Milton 
across  the  Alps. 

In  April,  1637,  Milton’s  mother  had  diedj_butAua 

CH.  III.] 



younger  brother,  Christopher,  had  come  to  live,  with  his 
wife,  in  the  paternal  home  at  Horton.  Milton,  the  father, 
was  not  unwilling  that  his  son  should  have  his  foreign  tour, 
as  a part  of  that  elaborate  education  by  which  he  was 
qualifying  himself  for  his  doubtful  vocation,  j The  cost 
“waiTnot  to  standTn  the  way,  coniidmibleas  it  must  have 
been.  Howell’s  estimate,  in  his  Instructions  for  Forreine 
Travel , 1642,  was  300Z.  a year  for  the  tourist  himself, 
and  60Z.  for  his  man,  a sum  equal  to  about  1000/.  at 

Among  the  letters  of  introduction  with  which  Milton 
provided  himself,  one  was  from  the  aged  Sir  Henry 
Wotton,  Provost  of  Eton,  in  Milton’s  immediate  neigh- 
bourhood. Sir  Henry,  who  had  lived  a long  time  in 
Italy,  impressed  upon  his  young  friend  the  importance  of 
discretion  on  the  point  of  religion,  and  told  him  the  story 
which  he  always  told  to  travellers  who  asked  his  advice. 
r<At  Siena  I was  tabled  in  the  house  of  one  Alberto 

Scipioni,  an  old  Eoman  courtier  in  dangerous  times 

At  my  departure  for  Eome  I had  won  confidence 
enough  to  beg  his  advice  ho.w  I might  carry  myself 
securely  there,  without  offence  of  others,  or  of  mine  own 
conscience.  ‘ Signor  Arrigo  mio,’  says  he,  ‘ pensieri  stretti 
ed  il  viso  sciolto  (thoughts  close,  countenance  open)  will 
go  safely  over  the  whole  world.’”  Though  the  intensity 
of  the  Catholic  reaction  had  somewhat  relaxed  in  Italy, 
the  deportment  of  a Protestant  in  the  countries  which  were 
terrorised  by  the  Inquisition  was  a matter  which  demanded 
much  circumspection.  Sir  H.  Wotton  spoke  from  his 
own  experience  of  far  more  rigorous  times  than  those  of 
the  Barberini  Pope.  But  he  may  have  noticed,  even  in 
his  brief  acquaintance  with  Milton,  a fearless  presumption 
of  speech  which  was  just  what  was  most  likely  to  bring 



FIRST  PERIOD.  1608-1639- 


him  into  trouble.  The  event  proved  that  the  hint  wa* 

replied  that  he  was  a Catholic,  which,  in  a Laudian,  was 
but  a natural  equivoque.  Milton  was  resolute  in  his 
>mef  so  much  so  that  many  were  deterred 

oiler.  Mis  rule,  he  says,  was  “ notTof  my  own  accord  to 
introduce  in  those  places  conversation  about  religion,  but, 

should  suffer,  to  dissemble  nothing.  What  I was,  if  any 
one  asked,  I concealed  from  no  one ; if  any  one  in  the 
very  city  of  the  Pope  attacked  the  orthodox  religion,  I 
defended  it  most  freely.”  Beyond  the  statement  that  the 
English  Jesuits  were  indignant,  we  hear  of  no  evil  con- 
sequences of  this  imprudence.  Perhaps  the  Jesuits  saw 
that  Milton  was  of  the  stuff  that  would  welcome  mar- 
tyrdom, and  were  sick  of  the  affair  of  Galileo,  which  had 
terribly  damaged  the  pretensions  of  their  church. 

Milton  arrived  in  Paris  April  or  May,  1638.^.  He 
received*  civilities  from  the  English  ambassador,  Lord 
Scudamore,  who  at  his  request  gave  him  an  introduction 
to  Grotius.  Grotius,  says  Phillips,  “ took  Milton's  visit 
kindly,  and  gave  him  entertainment  suitable  to  his  worth, 
and  the  high  commendations  he  had  heard  of  him.”  We 
have  no  other  record  of  his  stay  of  many  days  in  Paris, 
though  A.  Wood  supposes  that  “the  manners  and  graces 
of  that  place  were  not  agreeable  to  his  mind.”  It  was 
August  before  he  reached  Florence,  by  way  of  Nice  and 
Genoa,  and  in  Florence  he  spent  the  two  months  which 
we  now  consider  the  most  impossible  there,  the  months 

not  misplaced.  For  at  Borne  itself,  in  the  very,  lion's 

■om  showing  him  the  civilities  they  were  prepared  to 

if  interrogated  respecting  the  faith,  then,  whatsoever  I 



of  August  and  September.  Nor  did  he  find,  as  he  would 
find  now,  the  city  deserted  by  the  natives.  We  hear 
nothing  of  Milton’s  impressions  of  the  place,  but  of  the 
men  whom  he  met  there  he  retained  always  a lively 
and  affectionate  remembrance.  The  learned  and  polite 
Florentines  had  not  fled  to  the  hills  from  the  stifling  heat 
and  blinding  glare  of  the  Lung’  Arno,  but  seem  to  have 
carried  on  their  literary  meetings  in  defiance  of  climate. 
This  was  the  age  of  academies — an  institution,  Milton 
says,  “ of  most  praiseworthy  effect,  both  for  the  cultivation 
of  polite  letters  and  the  keeping  up  of  friendships.” 
Florence  had  five  or  six  such  societies,  the  Florentine,  the 
Della  Crusca,  the  Svogliati,  the  Apotisti,  &c.  It  is  easy, 
and  usual  in  our  day,  to  speak  contemptuously  of  the 
literary  tone  of  these  academies,  fostering,  as  they  did, 
an  amiable  and  garrulous  intercourse  of  reciprocal  compli- 
ment, and  to  contrast  them  unfavourably  with  our 
societies  for  severe  research.  They  were  at  least  evidence 
of  culture,  and  served  to  keep  alive  the  traditions  of  the 
more  masculine  Medicean  age.  And  that  the  members 
of  these  associations  were  not  unaware  of  their  own  degene- 
racy and  of  its  cause,  we  learn  from  Milton  himself.  For, 
as  soon  as  they  found  that  they  were  safe  with  the  young 

* they,,  had  to  bear.  UJL  have  sate 

among  their  learned  men,”  Milton  wrote  in  1644,  “and 
been  counted  happy  to  be  born  in  such  a place  of  philo- 
sophic freedom  as  they  supposed  England  was,  while 
themselves  did  nothing  but  bemoan  the  servile  condition 
into  which  learning  amongst  them  was  brought,  that  this 
was  it  which  had  dampt  the  glory  of  Italian  wits, 
that  nothing  had  been  written  there  now  these  many 
years  but  flattery  and  fustian.”  Milton  was  introduced 

4h^h^owiu  bitter  hatred  of  the 


FIRST  PERIOD.  160R-1689. 


lit  the  meetings  of  their  academies ; his  presence  is  re- 
corded on  two  occasions,  of  which  the  latest  is  the  16th 
September  at  the  Svogliati.  He  paid  his  scot  by  reciting 
from  memory  some  of  his  youthful  Latin  verses,  hexa- 
meters, “molto  erudite,”  says  the  minute-book  of  the 
sitting,  and  others,  which  “ I shifted,  in  the  scarcity  of 
books  and  conveniences,  to  patch  up.”  He  obtained  much 
credit  by  these  exercises,  which,  indeed,  deserved  it  by 
comparison.  He  ventured  upon  the  perilous  experiment 
of  offering  some  compositions  in  Italian,  which  the  fas- 
tidious Tuscan  ear  at  least  professed  to  include  in  those 
“ encomiums  which  the  Italian  is  not  forward  to  bestow 
on  men  of  this  side  the  Alps.” 

The  author  of  Lycidas  cannot  but  have  been  quite 
aware  of  the  small  poetical  merit  of  such  an  ode  as  that 
which  was  addressed  to  him  by  Francini  In  this  ode 
Milton  is  the  swan  of  Thames — “ Thames,  which,  owing 
to  thee,  rivals  Boeotian  Permessus ;”  and  so  forth.  But 
there  is  a genuine  feeling,  an  ungrudging  warmth  of 
sympathetic  recognition  underlying  the  trite  and  tumid 
panegyric.  And  Milton  may  have  yielded  to  the  not 
unnatural  impulse  of  showing  his  countrymen,  that  though 
not  a prophet  in  boorish  and  fanatical  England,  he  had 
found  recognition  in  the  home  of  letters  and  arts.  Upon 
us  is  forced,  by  this  their  different  reception  of  Milton, 
the  contrast  between  the  two  countries,  Italy  and  England, 
in  the  middle  of  the  seventeenth  century.  The  rude 
north,  whose  civilisation  was  all  to  come,  concentrating  all 
its  intelligence  in  a violent  effort  to  work  off  the  eccle- 
siastical poison  from  its  system,  is  brought  into  sharp  con- 
trast with  the  sweet  south,  whose  civilisation  is  behind  it, 
and  whose  intellect,  after  a severe  struggle,  has  succumbed 
to  the  material  force  and  organisation  of  the  church. 




As  soon  as  the  season  allowed  of  it,  Milton  set  forward 
fco  Eome,  taking  what  was  then  the  usual  way  by  Siena. 
At  Rome  he  spent  two  months,  occupying  himself  partly 
with  seeing  the  antiquities,  and  partly  with  cultivating 
the  acquaintance  of  natives,  and  some  of  the  many 
foreigners  resident  in  the  eternal  city.  But  though  he 
received  much  civility,  we  do  not  find  that  he  met  with 
the  peculiar  sympathy  which  endeared  to  him  his  Tuscan 
friends.  His  chief  ally  was  the  German,  Lucas  Holstenius, 
a native  of  Hamburg,  who  had  abjured  Protestantism  to 
become  librarian  of  the  Vatican.  Holstenius  had  resided 
three  years  in  Oxford,  and  considered  himself  bound  to 
repay  to  the  English  scholar  some  of  the  attentions  he 
had  received  himself.  Through  Holstenius  Milton  was 
presented  to  the  nephew,  Francesco  Barberini,  who  was 
just  then  everything  in  Rome.  It  was  at  a concert  at  the 
Barberini  palace  that  Milton  heard  Leonora  Baroni  sing. 
His  three  Latin  epigrams  addressed  to  this  lady,  the  first 
singer  of  Italy,  or  of  the  world  at  that  time,  testify  to  the 
enthusiasm  she  excited  in  the  musical  soul  of  Milton. 

Hor  are  these  three  epigrams  the  only  homage  which 
Milton  paid  to  Italian  beauty.  The  susceptible  poet,  who  in 
the  sunless  north  would  fain  have  “sported  with  the  tangles 
of  FTesera’s  hair,”  could  not  behold  Heaera  herself  and  the 
hashing  splendour  of  her  eye,  unmoved.  Milton  proclaims 
( Defensio  Secunda)  that  in  all  his  foreign  tour  he  had 
lived  clear  from  all  that  is  disgraceful.  But  the  pudicity 
of  his  behaviour  and  language  covers  a soul  tremulous 
with  emotion,  whose  passion  was  intensified  by  the  disci- 
pline of  a chaste  intention.  Five  Italian  pieces  among 
his  poems  are  to  the  address  of  another  lady,  whose 
“majestic  movements  and  love- darting  dark  brow ” had 
subdued  him.  The  charm  lay  in  the  novelty  of  this  style 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


of  beauty  to  one  who  came  from  the  land  of  the  “vermeil* 
tinctur'd  cheek  ” (Comus)  and  the  “ golden  nets  of  hair  ” 
{El.  i.  60).  No  clue  has  been  discovered  to  the  name 
of  this  divinity,  or  to  the  occasion  on  which  Milton  saw 

Of  Milton's  impression  of  Eome  there  is  no  record. 
There  are  no  traces  of  special  observation  in  his  , poetry. 
The  descriptionof  the  city  in  Paradise  Regained  (iv.  32) 
has  nothing  characteristic,  and  could  have  been  written 
by  one  who  had  never  seen  it,  and  by  many  as  well  as 
by  Milton.  We  get  one  glimpse  of  him  by  aid  of  the 
register  of  the  English  College,  as  dining  there  at  a 
“ sumptuous  entertainment  ” on  30th  October,  when  he 
met  Nicholas  Carey,  brother  of  Lord  Falkland.  In  spite 
of  Sir  Henry  Wotton's  caution,  his  resoluteness,  as  A. 
Wood  calls  it,  in  his  religion,  besides  making  the  English 
Jesuits  indignant,  caused  others,  not  Jesuits,  to  withhold 
civilities.  Milton  only  tells  us  himself  that  the  anti- 
quities detained  him  in  Rome  about  two  months. 

At  the  end  of  November  he  went  on  to  Naples.  On  the 
road  he  fell  in  with  an  Eremite  friar,  who  gave  him  an 
introduction  to  the  one  man  in  Naples  whom  it  was  im- 
portant he  should  know,  Giovanni  Battista  Manso, 
Marquis  of  Villa.  The  marquis,  now  seventy- eight,  had 
been  for  two  generations  the  Maecenas  of  letters  in 
Southern  Italy.  He  had  sheltered  Tasso  in  the  former 
generation,  and  Marini  in  the  latter.  It  was  the  singular 
privilege  of  his  old  age  that  he  should  now  entertain  a 
third  poet,  greater  than  either.  In  spite  of  his  years,  he 
was  able  to  act  as  cicerone  to  the  young  Englishman  over 
the  scenes  which  he  himself,  in  hi3  Life  of  Tasso , has 
described  with  the  enthusiasm  of  a poet.  But  even  the 
high-souled  Manso  quailed  before  the  terrors  of  the  In- 




quisition,  and  apologised  to  Milton  for  not  having  shown 
him  greater  attention,  because  he  would  not  be  more 
circumspect  in  the  matter  of  religion.  Milton’s  Italian 
journey  brings  out  the  two  conflicting  strains  of  feeling, 
wlnch_  were  uttered  together  in  Lycidas , the  poet’s  inn 
possibility  by  nature,  the  freeman’s  indignation  at  clerical 

The  time  was  now  at  hand  when  the  latter  passion,  the 
noble  rage  of  freedom,  was  to  suppress  the  more  delicate 
flower  of  poetic  imagination.  Milton’s  original  scheme 
had  included  Sicily  and  Greece.  The  serious  aspect  of 
affairs  at  home  compelled  him  to  renounce  his  project. 
“ I considered  it  dishonourable  to  be  enjoying  myself  at 
my  ease  in  foreign  lands,  while  my  countrymen  were 
striking  a blow  for  freedom.”  _He^_retraced  his  steps 
leisurely  enough,  however,  making  a halt  of  two  months 
in  Rome,  and  again  one  of  two  months  in  Florence. 
We  find  him  mentioned  in  the  minutes  of  the  academy 
of  the  Svogliati  as  having  been  present  at  three  of 
their  weekly  meetings,  on  the  17th,  24th,  and  31st 
March.  Rut  the  most  noteworthy  incident  of  his  second 
Florentine  residence  is  his  interview  with  Galileo.  He 
had  been  unable  to  see  the  veteran  martyr  Ilf  Science  on 
his  first  visit.  For  though  Galileo  was  at  that  time 
living  within  the  walls,  he  was  kept  a close  prisoner 
by  the  Inquisition,  and  not  allowed  either  to  set  foot 
outside  his  own  door,  or  to  receive  visits  from  non- 
Catholics.  In  the  spring  of  1639,  however,  he  was 
allowed  to  go  back  to  his  villa  at  Gioiello,  near  Arcetri, 
and  Milton  obtained  admission  to  him,  old,  frail,  and 
blind,  but  in  full  possession  of  his  mental  faculty.  There 
is  observable  in  Milton,  as  Mr.  Masson  suggests,  a pro- 
phetic fascination  of  the  fancy  on  the  subject  of  blind* 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608—1639. 


ness.  And  the  deep  impression  left  by  this  sight  of  u the 
Tuscan  artist  ” is  evidenced  by  the  feeling  with  which 
Galileo’s  name  and  achievement  are  imbedded  in  Paradise 
Lost . 

Ei^om  JlQxence^  Milton  crossed  the  Apennines  by  Bo- 
logna and  Ferrara  to  Venice.  From  this  port  he  shipped 
for  England  the  books  he  had  collected  during  his  tour, 
books  curious  and  rare  as  they  seemed  to  Phillips,  and 
among  them  a chest  or  two  of  choice  music  books. 
The  month  of  April  was  spent  at  Venice,  and  bidding 
farewell  to  the  beloved  land  he  would  never  visit  again, 
Milton  passed  the  Alps  to  Geneva. 

No  Englishman’s  foreign  pilgrimage  was  complete  with- 
out touching  at  this  marvellous  capital  of  the  reformed 
faith,  which  with  almost  no  resources  had  successfully 
braved  the  whole  might  of  the  Catholic  reaction.  The 
only  record  of  Milton’s  stay  at  Geneva  is  the  album  of 
a Neapolitan  refugee,  to  which  Milton  contributed  his 
autograph,  under  date  10th  June,  1639,  with  the  follow- 
ing quotation 

If  virtue  feeble  were, 

Heaven  itself  would  stoop  to  her. 

(From  Comus ). 

Coelum  non  animum  muto,  dum  trans  mare  curro. 

(From  Horace.) 

But  it  is  probable  that  he  was  a guest  in  the  house  of 
one  of  the  leading  pastors,  Giovanni  Diodati,  whose 
nephew  Charles,  a physician  commencing  practice  in 
London,  was  Milton’s  bosom  friend.  Here  Milton  first 
heard  of  the  death,  in  the  previous  August,  of  that  friend. 
It  was  a heavy  blow  to  him,  for  one  of  the  chief  plea- 
sures of  being  at  home  again  would  have  been  to  poui 




into  a sympathetic  Italian  ear  the  story  of  his  adventures. 
The  sadness  of  the  homeward  journey  from  Geneva  is 
recorded  for  us  in  the  Epitaphium  Damonis.  This 
piece  is  an  elegy  to  the  memory  of  Charles  Diodati.  It 
unfortunately  differs  from  the  elegy  on  King  in  being 
written  in  Latin,  and  is  thus  inaccessible  to  uneducated 
readers.  As  to  such  readers  the  topic  of  Milton’s  Latin 
poetry  is  necessarily  an  ungrateful  subject,  I will  dismiss 
it  here  with  one  remark.  Milton’s  Latin  verses  are  dis- 
tinguished from  most  Heo-latin  verse  by  being  a vehicle 
of  real  emotion.  His  technical  skill  is  said  to  have  been 
surpassed  by  others ; but  that  in  which  he  stands  alone 
is,  that  in  these  exercises  of  imitative  art  he  is  able  to 
remain  himself,  and  to  give  utterance  to  genuine  passion. 
Artificial  Arcadianism  is  as  much  the  frame-work  of  the 
elegy  on  Diodati  as  it  is  of  Lycidas.  We  have  Daphnis 
and  Bion,  Tityrus  and  Amyntas  for  characters,  Sicilian 
valleys  for  scenery,  while  Pan,  Pales,  and  the  Fauna 
represent  the  supernatural.  The  shepherds  defend  their 
flocks  from  wolves  and  lions.  But  this  factitious  buco- 
licism  is  pervaded  by  a pathos,  which,  like  volcanic  heat, 
has  fused  into  a new  compound  the  dilapidated  debris 
of  the  Theocritean  world.  And  in  the  Latin  elegy  there 
is  more  tenderness  than  in  the  English.  Charles  Diodati 
was  much  nearer  to  Milton  than  had  been  Edward  King. 
The  sorrow  in  Lycidas  is  not  so  much  personal  as  it  is 
the  regret  of  the  society  of  Christ’s.  King  had  only  been 
known  to  Milton  as  one  of  the  students  of  the  same 
college ; Diodati  was  the  associate  of  his  choice  in  riper 

The  Epitaphium  Damonis  is  further  memorable  as 
Milton’s  last  attempt  in  serious  Latin  verse.  He  dis- 
covered in  this  experiment  that  Latin  was  not  an  adequate 


FIRST  PERIOD.  1608-1639. 

[ch.  in. 

vehicle  of  the  feeling  he  desired  to  give  vent  to.  In  the 
concluding  lines  he  takes  a formal  farewell  of  the  Latian 
muse,  and  announces  his  purpose  of  adopting  henceforth 
the  “ harsh  and  grating  Brittonic.  idiom  %y  (Britt  onicum 

SECOND  PERIOD . 1640—1660. 



Milton  was  back  in  England  in  August,  1639.  He  had 
been  absent  a year  and  three  months,  during  which  space 
of  time  the  aspect  of  public  affairs,  which  had  been  per- 
plexed and  gloomy  when  he  left,  had  been  growing  stilP^ 
more  ominous  of  a coming  storm.  The  issues  of  the  con- 
troversy were  so  pervasive,  that  it  was  almost  impossible 
for  any  educated  man  who  understood  them  not  to  range 
himself  on  a side.  # Yet  Milton,  though  he  had  broken  off 
his  projected  tour  in  consequence,  did  not  rush  into  th&. 
fray  on  his  return.  He  resumed  his  retired  and  studious 
life,  ~<tYdth~no  small  delight,  cheerfully  leaving,”  as  he 
says,  “ the  event  of  public  affairs  first  to  God,  and  then  to 
those  to  whom  the  people  had  committed  that  task.” 

He  did  not  return  to  Horton,  but  took  lodgings  in 
London,  in  the  house  of  Eussel  a tailor,  in  St.  Bride’s 
Churchyard,  at  the  city  end  of  Fleet-street,  on  the  site  of 
what  is  now  Farringdon-street.  There  is  no  attempt  on 
the  part  of  Milton  to  take  up  a profession,  not  even  for  the 
sake  of  appearances.  The  elder  Milton  was  content  to 
provide  the  son,  of  whom  he  was  proud,  with  the  means 
of  prosecuting  his  eccentric  scheme  of  life,  to  continue, 

U SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

namely,  to  prepare  himself  for  some  great  work,  nature 

For  a young  man  of  simple  habits  and  studious  life  a 
little  suffices.  The  chief  want  is  books,  and  of  these,  for 
Milton's  style  of  reading,  select  rather  than  copious,  a 
large  collection  is  superfluous.  There  were  in  1640  no 
public  libraries  in  London,  and  a scholar  had  to  find  his 
own  store  of  books  or  to  borrow  from  his  friends.  Milton 
never  can  have  possessed  a large  library.  At  Horton  he 
may  have  used  Kederminster’s  bequest  to  Langley  Church. 
Still,  with  his  Italian  acquisitions,  added  to  the  books  that 
he  already  possessed,  he  soon  found  a lodging  loo-narrow 
for  his  accommodation,  and  removed  to  a house^of-his 

an  entry?*  AHersgate  was  outside  the  city  walls,  on  the 

verge  of  the  open  country  of  Islington,  and  was  a genteel 
though  not  a fashionable  quarter.  There  were  few  streets 
in  London,  says  Phillips,  more  free  from  noise. 

He  had  taken  in  hand  the  education  of  his  two 
nephews,  John  and  Edward  Phillips,  sons  of  his  only 
sister  Anne.  Anne  was  a few  years  older  than  her  bro- 
ther John.  Her  first  husband,  Edward  Phillips,  had  died 
in  1631,  and  the  widow  had  given  her  two  sons  a step- 
father in  one  Thomas  Agar,  who  was  in  the  Clerk  of  the 
Crown's  office.  Milton,  on  settling  in  London  in  1639, 
had  at  once  taken  his  younger  nephew  John  to  live  with 
him.  When,  in  1640,  he  removed  to  Aldersgate,  the 
elder,  Edward,  also  came  under  his  roof. 

If  it  was  affection  for  his  sister  which  first  moved 
Milton  to  undertake  the  tuition  of  her  sons,  he  soon  deve- 
loped a taste  for  the  occupation.  In  1643  he  began  to 
receive  into  his  house  other  pupils,  but  only,  says 
Phillips  (who  is  solicitous  that  his  uncle  should  not  be 



4 fi 

thought  to  have  kept  a school),  “ the  sons  of  some  gentle* 
men  that  were  his  intimate  friends.”  He  threw  into  his 
lessons  the  same  energy  which  he  carried  into  everything 
else.  In  his  eagerness  to  find  a place  for  everything  that 
could  be  learnt,  there  could  have  been  few  hours  in  the 
day  which  were  not  invaded  by  teaching.  He  had  ex- 
changed the  contemplative  leisure  of  Horton  for  a busy 
life,  in  which  no  hour  but  had  its  calls.  Even  on  Sundays 
there  were  lessons  in  the  Greek  Testament  and  dictations 
of  a system  of  Divinity  in  Latin.  His  pamphlets  of  this 
period  betray,  in  their  want  of  measure  and  equilibrium, 
even  in  their  heated  style  and  passion-flushed  language, 
the  life  at  high  pressure  which  their  author  was  leading. 

We  have  no  account  of  Milton’s  method  of  teaching 
from  any  competent  pupil.  Edward  Phillips  was  an 
amiable  and  upright  man,  who  earned  his  living  respec- 
tably by  tuition  and  the  compilation  of  books.  He  held 
his  uncle’s  memory  in  great  veneration.  But  when  he 
comes  to  describe  the  education  he  received  at  his  uncle’s 
hands,  the  only  characteristic  on  which  he  dwells  is  that  of 
quantity.  Phillips’s  account  is,  however,  supplemented 
for  us  by  Milton’s  written  theory.  His  Tractate  of  Edu- 
cation to  Master  Samuel  Hartlib  is  probably  known  even 
to  those  who  have  never  looked  at  anything  else  of  Milton’s 
in  prose. 

Of  all  the  practical  arts,  that  of  education  seems  the 
most  cumbrous  in  its  method,  and  to  be  productive  of  the 
smallest  results  with  the  most  lavish  expenditure  of 
means.  Hence  the  subject  of  education  is  one  which  is 
always  luring  on  the  innovator  and  the  theorist.  Every 
one,  as  he  grows  up,  becomes  aware  of  time  lost,  and  effort 
misapplied,  in  his  own  case.  It  is  not  unnatural  to  desire 
to  save  our  children  from  a like  waste  of  power.  And  in  a 

46  SECOND  PEEIOD.  1640—1660.  [ohaf 

time  such  as  was  that  of  Milton’s  youth,  when  all  tra- 
ditions were  being  questioned,  and  all  institutions  were  to 
be  remodelled,  it  was  certain  that  the  school  would  be 
among  the  earliest  objects  to  attract  an  experimental 
reformer.  Among  the  advanced  minds  of  the  time  there 
had  grown  up  a deep  dissatisfaction  with  the  received 
methods  of  our  schools,  and  more  especially  of  our 
universities.  The  great  instaurator  of  all  knowledge, 
Bacon,  in  preaching  the  necessity  of  altering  the  whole 
method  of  knowing,  included  as  matter  of  course  the 
method  of  teaching  to  know. 

The  man  who  carried  over  the  Baconian  aspiration  into 
education  was  Comenius  (d.  1670).  A projector  and  en- 
thusiast, Comenius  desired,  like  Bacon,  an  entirely  new 
intellectual  era.  With  Bacon’s  intellectual  ambition,  but 
without  Bacon’s  capacity,  Comenius  proposed  to  revo- 
lutionise all  knowledge,  and  to  make  complete  wisdom 
accessible  to  all,  in  a brief  space  of  time,  and  with  a 
minimum  of  labour.  Language  only  as  an  instrument, 
not  as  an  end  in  itself ; many  living  languages,  instead  of 
the  one  dead  language  of  the  old  school ; a knowledge  of 
things,  instead  of  words ; the  free  use  of  our  eyes  and  ears 
upon  the  nature  that  surrounds  us  ; intelligent  appre- 
hension, instead  of  loading  the  memory- — all  these  doc- 
trines, afterwards  inherited  by  the  party  of  rational 
reform,  were  first  promulgated  in  Europe  by  the  numerous 
pamphlets — some  ninety  have  been  reckoned  up — of  this 
Teuto-Slav,  Comenius. 

Comenius  had  as  the  champion  of  his  views  in  England 
Samuel  Hartlib,  a Dantziger  by  origin,  settled  in  London 
since  1628.  Hartlib  had  even  less  of  real  science  than 
Comenius,  but  he  was  equally  possessed  by  the  Baconian 
ideal  of  a new  heaven  and  a new  earth  of  knowledge. 




Not  himself  a discoverer  in  any  branch,  he  was  unceasingly 
occupied  in  communicating  the  discoveries  and  inventions 
of  others.  He  had  an  ear  for  every  novelty  of  whatever 
kind,  interesting  himself  in  social,  religious,  philanthropic 
schemes,  as  well  as  in  experiments  in  the  arts.  A sanguine 
universality  of  benevolence  pervaded  that  generation  of 
ardent  souls,  akin  only  in  their  common  anticipation  of  an 
unknown  Utopia.  A secret  was  within  the  reach  of 
human  ingenuity  which  would  make  all  mankind  happy. 
But  there  were  two  directions  more  especially  in  which 
Hartlib’s  zeal  without  knowledge  abounded.  These  were 
a grand  scheme  for  the  union  of  Protestant  Christendom, 
and  his  propagand  of  Comenius’s  school-reform. 

For  the  first  of  these  projects  it  was  not  likely  that 
Hartlib  would  gain  a proselyte  in  Milton,  who  had  at 
one-and- twenty  judged  Anglican  orders  a servitude,  and 
was  already  chafing  against  the  restraints  of  Presbytery. 
But  on  his  other  hobby,  that  of  school-reform,  Milton  was 
not  only  sympathetic,  but  when  Hartlib  came  to  talk 
with  him,  he  found  that  most  or  all  of  Comenius’s  ideas 
had  already  independently  presented  themselves  to  the 
reflection  or  experience  of  the  Englishman.  At  Hartlib’s 
request  Milton  consented  to  put  down  his  thoughts  on 
paper,  and  even  to  print  them  in  a quarto  pamphlet  of 
eight  pages,  entitled,  Of  Education:  to  Master  Samuel 
Hartlib . 

This  tract,  often  reproduced  and  regarded,  along  with 
one  of  Locke’s,  as  a substantial  contribution  to  the  sub- 
ject, must  often  have  grievously  disappointed  those  who 
have  eagerly  consulted  it  for  practical  hints  or  guidance  of 
any  kind.  Its  interest  is  wholly  biographical.  It  cannot 
be  regarded  as  a valuable  contribution  to  educational 
theory,  but  it  is  strongly  marked  with  the  Miltonic  indi- 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 

f CHAP, 

viduality.  We  find  in  it  the  same  lofty  conception  of  the 
aim  which  Milton  carried  into  everything  he  attempted  ; 
the  same  disdain  of  the  beaten  routine,  and  proud  reliance 
upon  his  own  resources.  He  had  given  vent  elsewhere  to 
his  discontent  with  the  system  of  Cambridge,  “ which,  as 
in  the  time  of  her  better  health,  and  mine  own  younger 
judgment,  I never  greatly  admired,  so  now  (1642)  much 
less.”  In  the  letter  to  Hartlib  he  denounces  with  equal 
fierceness  the  schools  and  “ the  many  mistakes  which  have 
made  learning  generally  so  unpleasing  and  so  unsuc« 
cessful.”  The  alumni  of  the  universities  carry  away  with 
them  a hatred  and  contempt  for  learning,  and  sink  into 
“ignorantly  zealous”  clergymen,  or  mercenary  lawyers, 
while  the  men  of  fortune  betake  themselves  to  feasts 
and  jollity.  These  last,  Milton  thinks,  are  the  best  of 
the  three  classes. 

All  these  moral  shipwrecks  are  the  consequence, 
according  to  Milton,  of  bad  education.  It  is  in  out 
power  to  avert  them  by  a reform  of  schools.  But  the 
measures  of  reform,  when  produced,  are  ludicrously  incom- 
mensurable with  the  evils  to  be  remedied.  I do  not 
trouble  the  reader  with  the  proposals ; they  are  a form  of 
the  well-known  mistake  of  regarding  education  as  merely 
the  communication  of  useful  knowledge.  The  doctrine  as 
propounded  in  the  Tractate  is  complicated  by  the  further 
difficulty,  that  the  knowledge  is  to  be  gathered  out  of 
Greek  and  Latin  books.  This  doctrine  is  advocated  by 
Milton  with  the  ardour  of  his  own  lofty  enthusiasm.  In 
virtue  of  the  grandeur  of  zeal  which  inspires  them,  these 
pages,  which  are  in  substance  nothing  more  than  the  now 
familiar  omniscient  examiner’s  programme,  retain  a place 
as  one  of  our  classics.  The  fine  definition  of  education 
here  given  has  never  been  improyed  upon : “ I call  a 



complete  and  generous  education  that  which  fits  a man 
to  perform  justly,  skilfully,  and  magnanimously,  all  the 
offices,  both  private  and  public,  of  peace  and  war.”  This 
is  the  true  Milton.  When  he  offers,  in  another  page,  as 
an  equivalent  definition  of  the  true  end  of  learning,  “ to 
repair  the  ruin  of  our  first  parents  by  regaining  to  know 
God  aright,”  we  have  the  theological  Milton,  and  what 
he  took  on  from  the  current  language  of  his  age. 

Milton  saw  strongly,  as  many  have  done  before  and 
since,  one  weak  point  in  the  practice  of  schools,  namely, 
the  small  result  of  much  time.  He  fell  into  the  natural 
error  of  the  inexperienced  teacher,  that  of  supposing  that 
the  remedy  was  the  ingestion  of  much  and  diversified 
intelligible  matter.  It  requires  much  observation  of 
young  minds  to  discover  that  the  rapid  inculcation  of 
unassimilated  information  stupefies  the  faculties  instead  of 
training  them.  Is  it  fanciful  to  think  that  in  Edward 
Phillips,  who  was  always  employing  his  superficial  pen 
upon  topics  with  which  he  snatched  a fugitive  acquain- 
tance, we  have  a concrete  example  of  the  natural  result 
of  the  Miltonic  system  of  instruction  I 



We  have  seen  that  Milton  turned  hack  from  his  unaccom- 
plished tour  because  he  4 4 deemed  it  disgraceful  to  he 
idling  away  his  time  abroad  for  his  own  gratification, 
while  his  countrymen  were  contending  for  their  liberty/1 
From  these  words  biographers  have  inferred  that  he 
hurried  home  with  the  view  of  taking  service  in  the  Par- 
liamentarian army.  This  interpretation  of  his  words 
seems  to  receive  confirmation  from  what  Phillips  thinks 
he  had  heard,— 44 1 am  much  mistaken  if  there  were  not 
about  this  time  a design  in  agitation  of  making  him 
Adjutant-General  in  Sir  William  Waller’s  army.” 
Phillips  very  likely  thought  that  a recruit  could  enlist  as 
an  Adjutant-General,  but  it  does  not  appear  from  Milton’s 
own  words  that  he  himself  ever  contemplated  service  in 
the  field.  The  words  44  contending  for  liberty  ” (de  liber- 
tate  dimicarent)  could  not,  as  said  of  the  winter  1638-39, 
mean  anything  more  than  the  strife  of  party.  And  when 
war  did  break  out,  it  must  have  been  obvious  to  Milton 
that  he  could  serve  the  cause  better  as  a scholar  than  as  a 

That  he  never  took  service  in  the  army  is  certain.  If 



CH.  V.] 

there  was  a time  when  he  should  have  been  found  in  the 
ranks,  it  was  on  the  12th  November,  1642,  when  every 
able-bodied  citizen  turned  out  to  oppose  the  march  of  the 
king,  wTho  had  advanced  to  Brentford.  But  we  have  the 
evidence  of  the  sonnet — 

Captain,  or  Colonel,  or  Kniglit  in  arms, 

that  Milton,  on  this  occasion,  stayed  at  home.  He  had, 
as  he  announced  in  February,  1642,  “ taken  labour  and 
intent  study  ” to  be  his  portion  in  this  life.  He  did  not 
contemplate  enlisting  his  pen  in  the  service  of  the  Par- 
liament, but  the  exaltation  of  his  country’s  glory  by  the 
composition  of  some  monument  of  the  English  language, 
as  Dante  or  Tasso  had  done  for  Italian.  But  a project 
ambitious  as  this  lay  too  far  off  to  be  put  in  execution  as 
soon  as  thought  of.  The  ultimate  purpose  had  to  give 
place  to  the  immediate.  One  of  these  interludes,  originating 
in  Milton’s  personal  relations,  was  his  series  of  tracts  on 

(^jn  the  early  part  of  the  summer  of  1643^3IiltQa-4eok 
a sudden  journey  into  the  country,  u nobody  about  him 
certain  reasonTor  that  it  was  any  more 

than  a journey” of  recr^ion7r^TIe^was  absent  about  a 
Inonth^  he  returned  he  brought  back  a wife. 

mthhimT~~^ . She  was  attended 
« bv^some  few~of  her  nearesF~relations/’  and  there  was 
feasting  and  celebration  of  the  nuptials,  in  the  house  in 

The  bride’s  name  was  Mary,  eldest  daughter  of  Bichard 
Powell,  Esq.,  of  Forest  Hill,  J.P.  for  the  county  of  Oxford. 
Forest  Hill  is  a village  and  parish  about  five  miles  from 
Oxford  on  the  Thame  road,  where  Mr.  Powell  had  a house 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


and  a small  estate  of  some  3Q0Z.  a year,  value  of  that  day. 
Forest  Hill  was  within  the  ancient  royal  forest  of  Shot- 
over,  of  which  Mr.  Powell  was  Jessee.  The  reader  will 
remember  that  the  poet’s  father  was  horn  at  Stanton  St. 
John,  the  adjoining  parish  to  Forest  Hill,  and  that  Bichard 
Milton,  the  grandfather,  had  been  under-ranger  of  the 
royal  forest.  There  had  been  many  transactions  between 
the  Milton  and  the  Powell  families  as  far  back  as  1627. 
In  paying  a visit  to  that  neighbourhood,  Milton  was  both 
returning  to  the  district  which  had  been  the  home  of  all 
the  Miltons,  and  renewing  an  old  acquaintance  with  the 
Powell  family.  Mr.  Powell,  though  in  receipt  of  a fair 
income  for  a country  gentleman — 300Z.  a year  of  that  day 
may  be  roughly  valued  at  1000Z.  of  our  day — and  his  wife 
had  brought  him  3000Z.,  could  not  live  within  his  means. 
His  children  were  numerous,  and,  belonging  as  he  did  to 
the  cavalier  party,  his  house  was  conducted  with  the 
careless  hospitality  of  a royalist  gentleman.  Twenty  years 
before  he  had  begun  borrowing,  and  among  other  persons 
had  had  recourse  to  the  prosperous  and  saving  scrivener  of 
Bread-street.  He  was  already  mortgaged  to  the  Miltons, 
father  and  sons,  more  deeply  than  his  estate  had  any 
prospect  of  paying,  which  was  perhaps  the  reason  why  he 
found  no  difficulty  in  promising  a portion  of  1000Z.  with 
his  daughter.  Milton,  with  a poet’s  want  of  caution,  or 
indifference  to  money,  and  with  a lofty  masculine  dis- 
regard of  the  temper  and  character  of  the  girl  he  asked 
to  share  his  life,  came  home  with  his  bride  in  triumph, 
and  held  feasting  in  celebration  of  his  hasty  and  ill  con- 
sidered choice.  It  wasa  beginning  of  sorrows  to  him. 
Hitherto,  up  to  his  thirty -fifth  year,  independent  master 
"of  leisure  and  the  delights  of  literature,  his  years  had 
passed  without  a check  or  a shadow.  From  this  day 




forward  domestic  misery,  the  importunities  of  business, 
the  clamour  of  controversy,  crowned  by  the  crushing 
calamity  of  blindness,  were  to  be  his  portion  for  more  than 
thirty  years.  Singular  among  poets  in  the  serene  fortune 
of  the  first  half  of  life,  in  the  second  half  his  piteous  fate 
was  to  rank  in  wretchedness  with  that  of  his  masters, 
Dante  or  Tasso. 

The  biographer,  acquainted  with  the  event,  has  no 
difficulty  in  predicting  it,  and  in  saying  at  this  point  in 
his  story,  that  Milton  might  have  known  better  than, 
with  his  puritanical  connections,  to  have  taken  to  wife  a 
daughter  of  a cavalier  house,  to  have  brought  her  from  a 
roystering  home,  frequented  by  the  dissolute  officers  of 
the  Oxford  garrison,  to  the  spare  diet  and  philosophical 
retirement  of  a recluse  student,  and  to  have  looked  for 
sympathy  and  response  for  his  speculations  from  an  un- 
educated and  frivolous  girl.  Love  has  blinded,  and  will 
continue  to  blind,  the  wisest  men  to  calculations  as  easy 
and  as  certain  as  these.  And  Milton,  in  whose  soul 
Puritan  austerity  was  as  yet  only  contending  with  the 
more  genial  currents  of  humanity,  had  a far  greater  than 
average  susceptibility  to  the  charm  of  woman.  Even 
at  the  later  date  of  Paradise  Lost , voluptuous  thoughts, 
as  Mr.  Hallam  has  observed,  are  not  uncongenial  to  him. 
And  at  an  earlier  age  his  poems,  candidly  pure  from 
the  lascivious  inuendoes  of  his  contemporaries,  have  pre- 
served the  record  of  the  rapid  impression  of  the  momen- 
tary passage  of  beauty  upon  his  susceptible  mind.  Once, 
at  twenty,  he  was  set  all  on  flame  by  the  casual  meeting, 
in  one  of  his  walks  in  the  suburbs  of  London,  with  a 
damsel  whom  he  never  saw  again.  Again,  sonnets  hi. 
to  v.  tell  how  he  fell  before  the  new  type  of  foreign 
beauty  which  crossed  his  path  at  Bologna.  A similar 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640-1660. 


surprise  of  his  fancy  at  the  expense  of  his  judgment  seems 
to  have  happened  on  the  present  occasion  of  his  visit  to 
Shotover.  There  is  no  evidence  that  Mary  Powell  was 
handsome,  and  we  may  he  sure  that  it  would  have  been 
mentioned  if  she  had  been.  But  she  had  _ronthr-  and 
country  freshness ; her  “ unliveliness  and  natural  sloth 
unfit  for  conversation"”  passed  as  **  tfieHBashful  muteness 
olTTviilJi]^^  doutyTmtruded  that  he  was  being 

too  hasty,  Milton  may  have  thought  that  a girl  of  seven 
teen  could  be  moulded  at  pleasure. 

He  was  too  soon  undeceived.  His  dream  of  married 
happiness  barely  lasted  ou t_The^Jaon?y moon^TI e found 
thaT^Eehad  mated  himself  to  a clod  of  earthrwho  not 

a helpmeet  for  him.  With  Milton,  as  with  the  whole 
Calvimsticand  Puritan  Europe,  woman  was  a creature  of 
an  inferior  and  subordinate  class.  Man  was  the  final 
cause  of  God’s  creation,  and  woman  was  there  to  minister 
to  this  nobler  being.  In  his  dogmatic  treatise,  Be 
d^octfwn^  Milton  formulated  this  sentiment 

in  the  thesis,  borrowed  from  the  schoolmen,  that  the 
soul  was  communicated  “ in  semine  patris.”  The  cavalier 
section  of  society  had  inherited  the  sentiment  of  chivalry, 
and  contrasted  with  the  roundhead  not  more  by  its  loyalty 
to  the  person  of  the  prince,  than  by  its  recognition  of  the 
superior  grace  and  refinement  of  womanhood.  Even  in 
the  debased  and  degenerate  epoch  of  court  life  which 
followed  1660,  the  forms  and  language  of  homage  still 
preserved  the  tradition  of  a nobler  scheme  of  manners. 
The  Puritan  had  thrown  off  chivalry  as  being  parcel  of 
Catholicism,  and  had  replaced  it  by  the  Hebrew  ideal  of 
the  subjection  and  seclusion  of  woman.  Milton,  in  whose 
mind  the  rigidity  of  Puritan  doctrine  was  now  contending 




with  the  freer  spirit  of  culture  and  romance,  shows  on 
the  present  occasion  a like  conflict  of  doctrine  with 
sentiment.  While  he  adopts  the  oriental  hypothesis  of 
woman  for  the  sake  of  man,  he  modifies  it  by  laying 
more  stress  upon  mutual  affection,  the  charities  of  home, 
and  the  intercommunion  of  intellectual  and  moral  life, 
than  upon  that  ministration  of  woman  to  the  appetite 
and  comforts  of  man,  which  makes  up  the  whole  of  her 
functions  in  the  Puritan  apprehension.  The  failure  in 
his  own  case  to  obtain  this  genial  companionship  of  soul, 
which  he  calls  ‘‘the  gentlest  end  of  marriage, ” is  what 
gave  the  keenest  edge  to  his  disappointment  in  his  matri- 
monial venture. 

But  however  keenly  he  felt  and  regretted  the  precipi- 
tancy which  had  yoked  him  for  life  to  “a  mute  and 

spiritless  mate,,,  the  breach  did  not  come  from  his  sid&. 

The  girl  herself  conceived  an  equal  repugnance  to  the 
husband  she  had  thoughtlessly  accepted,  probably  on  the 
strength  of  his  good  looks,  which  was  all  of  Milton  that 
she  was  capable  of  appreciating.  A young  bride,  taken 
suddenly  from  the  freedom  of  a jovial  and  an  undisci- 
plined home,  rendered  more  lax  by  civil  confusion  and  easy 
intercourse  with  the  officers  of  the  royalist  garrison,  and 
committed  to  the  sole  society  of  a stranger,  and  that 
stranger  possessing  the  rights  of  a husband,  and  expecting 
much  from  all  who  lived  with  him,  may  not  unnaturally 
have  been  seized  with  panic  terror,  and  wished  herself 
home  again.  The  young  Mrs.  Milton  not  only  wished  it, 

but  incited  her  family  to  write  and  beg  that  she  might  be 

allowed  to  go  home  to  stay  the  remainder  of  the  summer. 
The  request  to  quit  her  husband  at  the  end  of  the  first 
month  was  so  unreasonable,  that  the  parents  would 
hardly  h a v e m ade7 It  if  they  had  not  suspected  some  pro- 

SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 



found  cause  of  estrangement.  Hor  could  Milton  have 
consented,  as  he  did,  to  so  extreme  a remedy,  unless  he 
had  felt  that  the  case  required  no  less,  and  that  her 
mother’s  advice  and  influence  were  the  most  available 
means  of  awakening  his  wife  to  a sense  of  her  duty. 
Milton’s  consent  was  therefore  given.  He  may  have 
thought  it  desirable  she  should  go,  and  thus  Mrs.  Powell 
would  not  have  been  going  very  much  beyond  the  truth 
when  she  pretended  some  years  afterwards  that  her  son- 
in-law  had  turned  away  his  wife  for  a long  space. 

^Mary  Milton  went  to  Forest  Hill  in  July,  hut  on  the 
understanding  that  she  was  to  come  back  at  Michaelmas. 
When  the  appointed  time  came,  she  did  not  appear.  Mil- 
ton  wrote  for  her  to  come.  Ho  answer.  Several  other 
letters  met  the  same  fate.  At  last  he  despatched  a foot 
messenger  to  Forest  Hill  desiring  her  return.  The 
messenger  came  back  only  to  report  that  he  had  been 
“ dismissed  with  some  sort  of  contempt.”  It  was  evident 
that  Mary  Milton’s  family  had  espoused  her  cause  as 
against  her  husband.  Whatever  may  have  been  the 
secret  motive  of  their  conduct,  they  explained  the  quarrel 
politically,  and  began  to  repent,  so  Phillips  thought,  of 
having  matched  the  eldest  daughter  of  their  house  with  a 
violent  Presbyterian. 

If  Milton  had  “ hasted  too  eagerly  to  light  the  nuptial 
torch,”  he  had  been  equally  ardent  in  his  calculations  of 
the  domestic  happiness  upon  which  he  was  to  enter.  His 
poet’s  imagination  had  invested  a dull  and  common  girl 
with  rare  attributes  moral  and  intellectual,  and  had  pic- 
lured  for  him  the  state  of  matrimony  as  an  earthly  paradise, 
in  which  he  was  to  be  secure  of  a response  of  affection 
showing  itself  in  a communion  of  intelligent  interests. 
In  proportion  to  the  brilliancy  of  his  ideal  anticipation 




was  the  fury  of  despair  which  came  upon  him  when  he 
found  out  his  mistake.  A common  man,  in  a common 
age,  would  have  vented  his  vexation  upon  the  individual. 
Milton,  living  at  a time  when  controversy  turned  away 
from  details,  and  sought  to  dig  down  to  the  roots  of  every 
question,  instead  of  urging  the  hardships  of  his  own  case, 
set  to  to  consider  the  institution  of  marriage  in  itself.  He 
published  a pamphlet  with  the  title,  The  Doctrine  and 
Discipline  of  Divorce,  at  first  anonymously,  but  putting 
his  name  to  a second  edition,  much  enlarged.  He  further 
reinforced  this  argument  in  chief  with  three  supplementary 
pamphlets,  partly  in  answer  to  opponents  and  objectors  ; 
for  there  was  no  lack  of  opposition,  indeed  of  outcry  loud 
and  fierce. 

A biographer  closely  scans  the  pages  of  these  pam- 
phlets, not  for  the  sake  of  their  direct  argument,  but  to 
see  if  he  can  extract  from  them  any  indirect  hints  of  their 
author’s  personal  relations.  There  is  found  in  them  no 
mention  of  Milton’s  individual  case.  Had  we  no  other 
information,  we  should  not  be  authorised  to  infer  from 
them  that  the  question  of  the  marriage  tie  was  more  than 
an  abstract  question  with  the  author. 

But  though  all  mention  of  his  own  case  is  studiously 
avoided  by  Milton,  his  pamphlet,  when  read  by  the  light 
of  Phillips’s  brief  narrative,  does  seem  to  give  some  assis- 
tance in  apprehending  the  circumstances  of  this  obscure 
passage  of  the  poet’s  life.  The  mystery  has  always  been 
felt  by  the  biographers,  but  has  assumed  a darker  hue 
since  the  discovery  by  Mr.  Masson  of  a copy  of  the  first 
edition  of  The  Doctrine  and  Discipline  of  Divorce , with 
the  written  date  of  August  1.  According  to  Phillips’s 
narrative,  the  pamphlet  was  engendered  by  Milton’s 
indignation  at  his  wife’s  contemptuous  treatment  of  him, 

68  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640-1660.  [chap. 

in  refusing  to  keep  th©  engagement  to  return  at  Michael- 
mas, and  would  therefore  be  composed  in  October  and 
November,  time  enough  to  allow  for  the  sale  of  the  edition, 
and  the  preparation  of  the  enlarged  edition,  which  came 
out  in  February,  1644.  But  if  the  date  “ August  1 ” for 
the  first  edition  be  correct,  we  have  to  suppose  that  Milton 
was  occupying  himself  with  the  composition  of  a vehe- 
ment and  impassioned  argument  in  favour  of  divorce  for 
incompatibility  of  temper,  during  the  honeymoon  ! Such 
behaviour  on  Milton’s  part,  he  being  thirty-five,  towards  a 
girl  of  seventeen,  to  whom  he  was  bound  to  show  all 
loving  tenderness,  is  so  horrible,  that  a suggestion  has  been 
made  that  there  was  a more  adequate  cause  for  his  dis- 
pleasure, a suggestion  which  Milton’s  biographer  is  bound 
to  notice,  even  if  he  does  not  adopt  it.  The  suggestion, 
which  I believe  was  first  made  by  a writer  in  the 
Athenceum , is  that  Milton’s  young  wife  refused  him  the 
consummation  of  the  marriage.  The  supposition  is 
founded  upon  a certain  passage  in  Milton’s  pamphlet. 

If  the  early  date  of  the  pamphlet  be  the  true  date ; if 
the  Doctrine  and  Discipline  was  in  the  hands  of  the 
public  on  August  1 ; if  Milton  was  brooding  over  this 
seething  agony  of  passion  all  through  J uly,  with  the  young 
bride,  to  whom  he  had  been  barely  wedded  a month,  in 
the  house  where  he  was  writing,  then  the  only  apology  for 
this  outrage  upon  the  charities,  not  to  say  decencies,  of 
home  is  that  which  is  suggested  by  the  passage  referred 
to.  ThenAhe  pamphlet,  however  imprudent,  becomes  par- 
donable. It  is  a passionate  crySomAheilep ths  of  a great 
despair ; another  evidence  of  the  noble  purity  of  a nature 
which  refused  to  console  itself  as  other  men  would  have 
consoled  themselves ; a nature  which,  instead  of  an 
egotistical  whine  for  its  own  deliverance,  sets  itself  to 




plead  the  common  cause  of  man  and  of  society.  Tie  gives 
no  intimation  of  any  individual  interest,  but  his  argument 
throughout  glows  with  a white  heat  of  concealed  emotion, 
such  as  could  only  he  stirred  by  the  sting  of  some  per- 
sonal and  present  misery. 

Notwithstanding  the  amount  of  free  opinion  abroad  in 
England,  or  at  least  in  London,  at  this  date,  Milton’s 
divorce  pamphlets  created  a sensation  of  that  sort  which 
Gibbon  is  fond  of  calling~lTScandal.  5~ scandal,  in  this 
sense,  must  always  arise  m your  own  party  ; you  cannot 
scandalise  the  enemy.  And  so  it  was  now.  The  Episco- 
palians were  rejoiced  that  Milton  should  ruin  his  credit 
with  his  own  side  by  advocating  a paradox.  The  Presby- 
terians hastened  to  disown  a man  who  enabled  their 
opponents  to  brand  their  religious  scheme  as  the  parent 
of  moral  heresies.  Eor  though  church  government  and 
the  English  constitution  in  all  its  parts  had  begun  to  be 
open  questions,  speculation  had  not  as  yet  attacked  either 
of  the  two  bases  of  society,  property  or  the  family.  Loud 
was  the  outcry  of  the  Philistines.  There  was  no  doubt 
that  the  rigid  bonds  of  Presbyterian  orthodoxy  would  not 
in  any  case  have  long  held  Milton.  They  were  snapped 
at  once  by  the  publication  of  his  opinions  on  divorce,  and 
Milton  is  henceforward  to  be  ranked  among  the  most 
independent  of  the  new  party  which  shortly  after  this 
date  began  to  be  heard  of  under  the  name  of  Inde- 

But  the  men  who  formed  the  nucleus  of  this  new  mode 
of  thinking  were  as  yet,  in  1643,  not  consolidated  into  a 
sect,  still  less  was  their  importance  as  the  coming  political 
party  dreamt  of.  At  present  they  were  units,  only  drawn 
to  each  other  by  the  sympathy  of  opinion.  The  contemp- 
tuous epithets,  Anabaptist,  Antinomian,  &c.,  could  he 

60  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

levelled  against  them  with  fatal  effect  by  every  Philistine, 
and  were  freely  used  on  this  occasion  against  Milton.  He 
says  of  himself  that  he  now  lived  in  a world  of  dis- 
esteem.  Hor  was  there  wanting,  to  complete  his  dis- 
comfiture, the  practical  parody  of  the  doctrine  of  divorce. 
A Mistress  Attaway,  lacewoman  in  Bell-alley,  and  she- 
preacher  in  Coleman-street,  had  been  reading  Master 
Milton’s  book,  and  remembered  that  she  had  an  unsanc- 
tified husband,  who  did  not  speak  the  language  of  Canaan. 
She  further  reflected  that  Mr.  Attaway  was  not  only 
unsanctified,  but  was  also  absent  with  the  army,  while 
William  Jenney  was  on  the  spot,  and,  like  herself,  also 
a preacher.  Could  a “ scandalised  ” Presbyterian  help 
pointing  the  finger  of  triumphant  scorn  at  such  examples, 
the  natural  fruits  of  that  mischievous  book,  The  Doctrine 
and  Discipline  ? 

Beyond  the  stage  of  scandal  and  disesteem  the  matter 
did  not  proceed.  In  dedicating  The  Doctrine  and  Dis- 
cipline to  the  Parliament,  Milton  had  specially  called  on 
that  assembly  to  legislate  for  the  relief  of  men  who  were 
encumbered  with  unsuitable  spouses.  Ho  notice  was 
taken  of  this  appeal,  as  there  was  far  other  work  on  hand, 
and  no  particular  pressure  from  without  in  the  direction 
of  Milton’s  suit.  Divorce  for  incompatibility  of  temper 
remained  his  private  crotchet,  or  obtained  converts  only 
among  his  fellow-sufferers,  who,  however  numerous,  did 
not  form  a body  important  enough  to  enforce  by  clamour 
their  demand  for  relief. 

Milton  was  not  very  well  pleased  to  find  that  the  Par- 
liament had  no  ear  for  the  bitter  cry  of  distress  wrung 
from  their  ardent  admirer  and  staunch  adherent.  Accord- 
ingly, in  1645,  in  dedicating  the  last  of  the  divorce  pam- 
phlets, which  he  entitled  Tetrachordon , to  the  Parliament, 




he  concluded  with  a threat,  “ If  the  law  make  not  a timely 
provision,  let  the  law,  as  reason  is,  hear  the  censure  of  the 

This  threat  he  was  prepared  to  put  in  execution,  and 
did,  in  1645,  as  Phillips  tells  us,  contemplate  a union, 
which  could  not  have  been  a marriage,  with  another 
woman.  He  was  able  at  this  time  to  find  some  part  of 
that  solace  of  conversation  which  his  wife  failed  to  give 
him,  among  his  female  acquaintance.  Especially  we  find 
him  at  home  in  the  house  of  one  of  the  Parliamentary 
women,  the  Lady  Margaret  Ley,  a lady  “ of  great  wit  and 
ingenuity,”  the  “ honoured  Margaret  ” of  Sonnet  x.  But 
the  Lady  Margaret  was  a married  woman,  being  the  wife 
of  a Captain  Hobson,  a “ very  accomplished  gentleman,” 
of  the  Isle  of  Wight.  The  young  lady  who  was  the 
object  of  his  attentions,  and  who,  if  she  were  the  “ vir- 
tuous young  lady”  of  Sonnet  ix.,  was  “in  the  prime  of 
earliest  youth,”  was  a daughter  of  a Dr.  Davis,  of  whom 
nothing  else  is  now  known.  She  is  described  by  Phillips, 
who  may  have  seen  her,  as  a very  handsome  and  witty 
gentlewoman.  Though  Milton  was  ready  to  brave  public 
opinion,  Miss  Davis  was  not.  And  so  the  suit  hung, 
when  all  schemes  of  the  kind  were  put  an  end  to  by  the 
unexpected  submission  of  Mary  Powell. 

Since  October,  1643,  when  Milton’s  messenger  had  been 
dismissed  from  Eorest  Hill,  the  face  of  the  civil  struggle 
was  changed.  The  Presbyterian  army  had  been  replaced  by 
that  of  the  Independents,  and  the  immediate  consequence 
had  been  the  decline  of  the  royal  cause,  consummated  by 
its  total  ruin  on  the  day  of  l^aseby,  in  June,  1645. 
Oxford  was  closely  invested,  Forest  Hill  occupied  by  the 
besiegers,  and  the  Powell  family  compelled  to  take  refuge 
within  the  lines  of  the  city.  Financial  bankruptcy,  too. 

62  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

had  overtaken  the  Powells.  These  influences,  rather 
than  any  rumours  which  may  have  reached  them  of 
Milton's  designs  in  regard  to  Miss  Davis,  wrought  a 
change  in  the  views  of  the  Powell  family..  By  the 
triumph  of  the  Independents  Mr.  Milton  was  become  a 
man  of  consideration,  and  might  be  useful  as  a protector. 
They  concluded  that  the  best  thing  they  could  do  was  to 
seek  a reconciliation.  There  were  not  wanting  friends  of 
Milton's  also,  some  perhaps  divining  his  secret  discontent, 
who  thought  that  such  reconciliation  would  be  better  for 
him  too,  than  perilling  his  happiness  upon  the  experiment 
of  an  illegal  connexion.  A conspiracy  of  the  friends  of 
both  parties  contrived  to  introduce  Mary  Powell  into  a 
house  where  Milton  often  visited  in  St.  Martin's-le-Grand. 
She  was  secreted  in  an  adjoining  room,  on  an  occasion 
when  Milton  was  known  to  be  coming,  and  he  was  sur- 
prised by  seeing  her  suddenly  brought  in,  throw  herself 
on  her  knees,  and  ask  to  be  forgiven.  The  poor  young 
thing,  now  two  years  older  and  wiser,  but  still  only 
nineteen,  pleaded,  truly  or  falsely,  that  her  mother  “ had 
been  all  along  the  chief  promoter  of  her  frowardness." 
Milton,  with  a “ noble  leonine  clemency  " which  became 
I him,  cared  not  for  excuses  for  the  past.  It  was*  enough 
that  she  was  come  back,  and  was  willing  to  live  with  him 
as  his  wife.  He  received  her  at  once,  and  not  only  her, 
but  on  the  surrender  of  Oxford,  in  June,  1646,  and  the 
sequestration  of  Porest  Hill,  took  in  the  whole  family  of 
Powells,  including  the  mother-in-law,  whose  influence  with 
her  daughter  might  even  again  trouble  his  peace. 

It  is  impossible  not  to  see  that  Milton  had  this  impres- 
sive scene,  enacted  in  St.  Martin's-le-Grand  in  1645, 
before  his  mind,  when  he  wrote,  twenty  years  afterwards, 
the  lines  in  Paradise  Lost , x.  937  : — 




. . . Eve,  with  tears  that  ceas'd  not  flowing 
And  tresses  all  disorder’d,  at  his  feet 
Fell  humble,  and  embracing  them,  besought 
His  peace  . 

. . . Her  lowly  plight 
Immovable,  till  peace  obtain’d  from  fault 
Acknowledg’d  and  deplor’d,  in  Adam  wrought 
Commiseration ; soon  his  heart  relented 
Tow’rds  her,  his  life  so  late  and  sole  delight, 
low  at  his  feet  submissive  in  distress  ! 

Creature  so  fair  his  reconcilement  seeking, 

* * * * * 

At  once  disarm’d,  his  anger  all  he  lost. 

The  garden-house  in  Aldersgate-street  had  before  been 
found  too  small  for  tbe  pupils  who  were  being  now 
pressed  upon  Milton.  It  was  to  a larger  house  in  Bar- 
bican, a side  street  leading  out  of  Aldersgate,  that  he 
brought  the  Powells  and  Mary  Milton.  Milton  probably 
abated  his  exactions  on  the  point  of  companionship,  and 
learned  to  be  content  with  her  acquiescence  in  the  duties 
of  a wife.  In  July,  1646,  she  became  a mother,  and  bore 
in  all  four  children.  Of  these,  three,  all  daughters,  lived 
to  grow  up.  Mary  Milton  herself  died  in  giving  birth  to 
the  fourth  child  in  the  summer  of  1652.  She  was  only 
twenty-six,  and  had  been  married  to  Milton  nine  years. 



We  liave  now  seen  Milton  engaged  in  teaching  and 
writing  on  education,  involved  in  domestic  unhappiness, 
and  speculating  on  the  obligations  of  marriage.  But 
neither  of  these  topics  formed  the  principal  occupation  of 
his  mind  during  these  years.  He  had  renounced  a cherished 
scheme  of  travel  because  his  countrymen  were  engaged  at 
home  in  contending  for  their  liberties,  and  it  could  not 
but  be  that  the  gradually  intensified  stages  of  that  struggle 
engrossed  his  interest,  and  claimed  his  participation. 

So  imperative  did  he  regard  this  claim  that  he  allowed 
it  to  override  the  purposed  dedication  of  his  life  to  poetry. 
Not  indeed  for  ever  and  aye,  but  for  a time.  As  he  had 
renounced  Greece,  the  iEgean  Isles,  Thebes,  and  the  East 
for  the  fight  for  freedom,  so  now  to  the  same  cause  he 
postponed  the  composition  of  his  epic  of  Arthurian 
romance,  or  whatever  his  mind  “in  the  spacious  circuits  of 
her  musing  proposed  to  herself  of  highest  hope  and  hardest 
attempting.”  No  doubt  at  first,  in  thus  deferring  the 
work  of  his  life,  he  thought  the  delay  would  be  for  a . 
brief  space.  He  did  not  foresee  that  having  once  taken 
an  oar,  he  would  be  chained  to  it  for  more  than  twenty 

CH.  VI.] 



years,  and  that  he  would  finally  owe  his  release  to  the 
ruin  of  the  cause  he  had  served.  But  for  the  Restoration 
and  the  overthrow  of  the  Puritans,  we  should  never  have 
had  the  great  Puritan  epic. 

The  period  then  of  his  political  activity  is  to  be  re- 
garded as  an  episode  in  the  life  of  the  poet  Milton.  It 
is  indeed  an  episode  which  fills  twenty  years,  and  those 
the  most  vigorous  years  of  manhood,  from  his  thirty- 
second  to  his  fifty-second  year.  He  himself  was  con- 
scious of  the  sacrifice  he  was  making,  and  apologises  to 
the  public  for  thus  defrauding  them  of  the  better  work 
which  he  stood  pledged  to  execute.  As  he  puts  it,  there 
was  no  choice  for  him.  He  could  not  help  himself,  at 
this  critical  juncture,  “ when  the  Church  of  God  was  at 
the  foot  of  her  insulting  enemies  he  would  never  have 
ceased  to  reproach  himself,  if  he  had  refused  to  employ 
the  fruits  of  his  studies  in  her  behalf.  He  saw  also  that  a 
generation  inflamed  by  the  passions  of  conflict,  and  look- 
ing  in  breathless  suspense  for  the  issue  of  battles,  was  not 
in  a mood  to  attend  to  poetry.  Hor,  indeed,  was  he 
ready  to  write,  “not  having  yet  (this  is  in  1642)  com- 
pleted to  my  mind  the  full  circle  of  my  private  studies.” 

But  though  he  is  drawn  into  the  strife  against  his  will, 
and  in  defiance  of  his  genius,  when  he  is  in  it,  h©  throws 
into  it  the  whole  vehemence  of  his  nature.  The  pam- 
phlet period,  I have  said,  is  an  episode  in  the  life  of  the 
poet.  But  it  is  a genuine  part  of  Milton’s  life.  However 
his  ambition  may  have  been  set  upon  an  epic  crown,  his 
zeal  for  what  he  calls  the  church  was  an  equal  passion, 
nay  had,  in  his  judgment,  a paramount  claim  upon  him. 
He  is  a zealot  among  the  zealots  ; his  cause  is  the  cause 
of  God ; and  the  sword  of  the  Independents  is  the 
sword  of  the  Lord  and  of  Gideon.  He  does  not  refute 


66  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640-1660.  [chap. 

opponents,  but  curses  enemies.  Yet  his  rage,  even  when 
most  delirious,  is  always  a Miltonic  rage  ; it  is  grand, 
sublime,  terrible  ! Mingled  with  the  scurrilities  of  the 
theological  brawl  are  passages  of  the  noblest  English  ever 
written.  Hartley  Coleridge  explains  the  dulness  of  the 
wit-combats  in  Shakspeare  and  Jonson,  on  the  ground 
that  repartee  is  the  accomplishment  of  lighter  thinkers 
and  a less  earnest  age.  So  of  Milton’s  pamphlets  it  must 
be  said  that  he  was  not  fencing  for  pastime,  but  fighting 
for  all  he  held  most  worthy.  He  had  to  think  only  of 
making  his  blows  tell.  When  a battle  is  raging,  and  my 
friends  are  sorely  pressed,  am  I not  to  help  because  good 
manners  forbid  the  shedding  of  blood  (l 

Ho  good  man  can,  with  impunity,  addict  himself  to 
party  . And  the  best  men  will  suffer  most,  because  their 
conviction  of  the  goodness  of  their  cause  is  deeper.  But 
when  one  with  the  sensibility  of  a poet  throws  himself 
into  the  excitements  of  a struggle,  he  is  certain  to  lose 
bis  balance.  The  endowment  of  feeling  and  imagination 
which  qualifies  him  to  be  the  ideal  interpreter  of  life, 
unfits  him  for  participation  in  that  real  life,  through  the 
manoeuvres  and  compromises  of  which  reason  is  the  only 
guide,  and  where  imagination  is  as  much  misplaced  as  it 
would  be  in  a game  of  chess.  “ The  ennobling  difference 
between  one  man  and  another  is  that  one  feels  more  than 
another.”  Milton’s  capacity  of  emotion,  when  once  he 
became  champion  of  a cause,  could  not  be  contained 
within  the  bounds  of  ordinary  speech.  It  breaks  into 
ferocious  reprobation,  into  terrific  blasts  of  vituperation, 
beneath  which  the  very  language  creaks,  as  the  timbers 
of  a ship  in  a storm.  Corruptio  optimi  pessima.  The 
archangel  is  recognisable  by  the  energy  of  his  malice. 
Were  all  those  accomplishments,  those  many  studious 




years  hiving  wisdom,  the  knowledge  of  all  the  tongues, 
the  command  of  all  the  thoughts  of  all  the  ages,  and  that 
wealth  of  English  expression — were  all  these  acq  uirements 
only  of  use,  that  their  possessor  might  vie  in  defamation 
with  an  Edwards  or  a Du  Moulin  1 

For  it  should  be  noted  that  these  pamphlets,  now  only 
serving  as  a record  of  the  prostitution  of  genius  to  political 
party,  were,  at  the  time  at  which  they  appeared,  of  no  use 
to  the  cause  in  which  they  were  written.  Writers,  with 
a professional  tendency  to  magnify  their  office,  have  always 
been  given  to  exaggerate  the  effect  of  printed  words. 
There  are  examples  of  thought  having  been  influenced  by 
books.  But  such  books  have  been  scientific,  not  rhetorical. 
Milton’s  pamphlets  are  not  works  of  speculation,  or  philo- 
sophy, or  learning,  or  solid  reasoning  on  facts.  They 
are  inflammatory  appeals,  addressed  to  the  passions  of 
the  hour.  He  who  was  meditating  the  erection  of  an 
enduring  creation,  such  as  the  world  “ would  not  wil- 
lingly let  die,”  was  content  to  occupy  himself  with  the 
most  ephemeral  of  all  hackwork.  His  own  polemical 
writings  may  be  justly  described  in  the  words  he  himself 
uses  of  a book  by  one  of  his  opponents,  as  calculated  “ to 
gain  a short,  contemptible,  and  soon-fading  reward,  not  to 
stir  the  constancy  and  solid  firmness  of  any  wise  man  .... 
but  to  catch  the  worthless  approbation  of  an  inconstant, 
irrational,  and  image-doting  rabble.” 

It  would  have  been  not  unnatural  that  the  public 
school  and  university  man,  the  admirer  of  Shakspeare 
and  the  old  romances,  the  pet  of  Italian  academies,  the 
poet-scholar,  himself  the  author  of  two  Masks,  who  was 
nursing  his  wings  for  a new  flight  into  the  realms  of 
verse,  should  have  sided  with  the  cavaliers  against  the 
Puritans,  with  the  party  of  culture  and  the  humanities 

68  SECOND  PEKIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

against  tlie  party  which  shut  up  the  theatres  and  despised 
profane  learning.  But  we  have  seen  that  there  was 
another  side  to  Milton’s  mind.  This  may  he  spoken  of 
as  his  other  self,  the  Puritan  self,  and  regarded  as  in 
internal  conflict  with  the  poet’s  self.  His  twenty  years’ 
pamphlet  warfare  may  he  presented  hy  his  biographer  as 
the  expression  of  the  Puritanic  Milton,  who  shall  have 
been  driven  hack  upon  his  suppressed  instincts  as  a poet 
by  the  ruin  of  his  political  hopes.  This  chart  of  Milton’s 
life  is  at  once  simple  and  true.  But  like  all  physiological 
diagrams  it  falls  short  of  the  subtlety  and  complexity  of 
human  character.  A study  of  the  pamphlets  will  show  that 
the  poet  is  all  there,  indeed  only  too  openly  for  influence  on 
opinion,  and  that  the  blighted  hope  of  the  patriot  lends  a 
secret  pathos  to  Paradise  Lost  and  Samson  Agonistes. 

This  other  element  in  Milton  is  not  accurately  named 
Puritanism.  Even  the  term  republicanism  is  a coarse  and 
conventional  description  of  that  sentiment  which  domi- 
nated his  whole  being,  and  which  is  the  inspiration  at  once 
of  his  poetry  and  of  his  prose.  To  give  a name  to  this 
sentiment,  I must  call  it  the  love  of  liberty.  It  was  an 
aspiration  at  once  real  and  vague,  after  a new  order  of 
things,  an  order  in  which  the  old  injustices  and  oppres- 
sions should  cease;  after  a new  Jerusalem,  a millennium, 
a Utopia,  an  Oceana.  Its  aim  was  to  realise  in  political 
institutions  that  great  instauration  of  which  Bacon  dreamed 
in  the  world  of  intelligence.  It  was  much  more  negative 
than  affirmative,  and  knew  better,  as  we  all  do,  how  good 
was  hindered  than  how  it  should  be  promoted.  “ I did 
but  prompt  the  age  to  quit  their  clogs.11  Milton  embodied, 
more  perfectly  than  any  of  his  cotemporaries,  this  spirit 
of  the  age.  It  is  the  ardent  aspiration  after  the  pure  and 
noble  life,  the  aspiration  which  stamps  every  line  he 




wrote,  verse  or  prose,  with  a dignity  as  of  an  heroic  age. 
This  gives  consistency  to  all  his  utterances.  The  doctri- 
naire republican  of  to-day  cannot  understand  how  the 
man  who  approved  the  execution  of  the  would-be  despot 
Charles  Stuart,  should  have  been  the  hearty  supporter  of 
the  real  autocrat  Oliver  Cromwell.  Milton  was  not  the 
slave  of  a name.  He  cared  not  for  the  word  republic^ 
so  as  it  was  well  with  the  commonwealth.  Parliaments 
or  single  rulers,  he  knew,  are  but  means  to  an  end ; il 
that  end  was  obtained,  no  matter  if  the  constitutional 
guarantees  exist  or  not.  Many  of  Milton’s  pamphlets  are 
certainly  party  pleadings,  choleric,  one-sided,  personal. 
But  through  them  all  runs  the  one  redeeming  charac- 
teristic— that  they  are  all  written  on  the  side  of  liberty. 
He  defended  religious  liberty  against  the  prelates,  civil 
liberty  against  the  crown,  the  liberty  of  the  press  against 
the  executive,  liberty  of  conscience  against  the  Presby- 
terians, and  domestic  liberty  against  the  tyranny  of  canon 
law.  Milton’s  pamphlets  might  have  been  stamped  with 
the  motto  which  Selden  inscribed  (in  Greek)  in  all  his 
books,  “ Liberty  before  everything.” 

One  virtue  these  pamphlets  possess,  the  virtue  of  style. 
They  are  monuments  of  our  language  so  remarkable  that 
Milton’s  prose  works  must  always  be  resorted  to  by 
students,  as  long  as  English  remains  a medium  of  ideas. 
Yet  even  on  the  score  of  style,  Milton’s  prose  is  subject 
to  serious  deductions.  His  negligence  is  such  as  to 
amount  to  an  absence  of  construction.  He  who,  in  his 
verse,  trained  the  sentence  with  delicate  sensibility  to 
follow  his  guiding  hand  into  exquisite  syntax,  seems  in 
his  prose  writing  to  abandon  his  meaning  to  shift  for 
itself.  Here  Milton  compares  disadvantageously  with 
Hooker.  Hooker’s  elaborate  sentence,  like  the  sentence 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


of  Demosthenes,  is  composed  of  parts  so  hinged*  of  clauses 
so  subordinated  to  the  main  thought,  that  we  foresee  the 
end  from  the  beginning,  and  close  the  period  with  a sense 
of  perfect  roundness  and  totality.  Milton  does  not  seem 
to  have  any  notion  of  what  a period  means.  He  begins 
anywhere,  and  leaves  off,  not  when  the  sense  closes, 
but  when  he  is  out  of  breath.  We  might  have  thought 
this  pell-mell  huddle  of  his  words  was  explained,  if  not 
excused,  by  the  exigencies  of  the  party  pamphlet,  which 
cannot  wait.  But  the  same  asyntactic  disorder  is  equally 
found  in  the  History  of  Britain , which  he  had  in  hand 
for  forty  years.  Hor  is  it  only  the  Miltonic  sentence 
which  is  incoherent ; the  whole  arrangement  of  his  topics 
is  equally  loose,  disjointed,  and  desultory.  His  inspira- 
tion comes  from  impulse.  Had  he  stayed  to  chastise  his 
emotional  writing  by  reason  and  the  laws  of  logic,  he  would 
have  deprived  himself  of  the  sources  of  his  strength. 

These  serious  faults  are  balanced  by  virtues  of  another 
kind.  Putting  Bacon  aside,  the  condensed  force  and 
poignant  brevity  of  whose  aphoristic  wisdom  has  no 
parallel  in  English,  there  is  no  other  prosaist  who  possesses 
anything  like  Milton’s  command  over  the  resources  of  our 
language.  Milton  cannot  match  the  musical  harmony 
and  exactly  balanced  periods  of  his  predecessor  Hooker. 
He  is  without  the  power  of  varied  illustration,  and  accu- 
mulation of  ornamental  circumstance,  possessed  by  his 
contemporary,  Jeremy  Taylor  (1613— 1667).  But  neither 
of  these  great  writers  impresses  the  reader  with  a sense  of 
unlimited  power  such  as  we  feel  to  reside  in  Milton. 
Vast  as  is  the  wealth  of  magnificent  words  which  he 
flings  with  both  hands  carelessly  upon  the  page,  we  feel 
that  there  is  still  much  more  in  reserve. 

The  critics  have  observed  (Collier’s  Poetical  Decameron) 




that  as  Milton  advanced  in  life  he  gradually  disused  the 
compound  words  he  had  been  in  the  habit  of  making  for 
himself.  However  this  may  be,  his  words  are  the  words 
of  one  who  made  a study  of  the  language,  as  a poet 
studies  language,  searching  its  capacities  for  the  expression 
of  surging  emotion.  Jeremy  Taylor’s  pro3e  is  poetical 
prose.  Milton’s  prose  is  not  poetical  prose,  but  a 
different  thing,  the  prose  of  a poet ; not  like  Taylor’s, 
loaded  with  imagery  on  the  outside ; but  coloured  by 
imagination  from  within.  Milton  is  the  first  English 
writer  who,  possessing  in  the  ancient  models  a standard 
of  the  effect  which  could  be  produced  by  choice  of  words, 
set  himself  to  the  conscious  study  of  our  native  tongue 
with  a firm  faith  in  its  as  yet  undeveloped  powers  as  an 
instrument  of  thought. 

The  words  in  Milton’s  poems  have  been  counted,  and 
it  appears  that  he  employs  8000,  while  Shakspeare’s  plays 
and  poems  yield  about  15,000.  From  this  it  might  be 
inferred  that  the  Miltonic  vocabulary  is  only  half  as  rich 
as  that  of  Shakspeare.  But  no  inference  can  be  founded 
upon  the  absolute  number  of  words  used  by  any  writer. 
We  must  know,  not  the  total  of  different  words,  but 
the  ^proportion  of  different  words  to  the  whole  of  any 
writer’s  words.  Kow  to  furnish  a list  of  100  different 
words  the  English  Bible  requires  531  common  words, 
Shakspeare  164,  Milton  135  only.  This  computation  is 
founded  on  the  poems  ; it  would  be  curious  to  have  the 
same  test  tried  upon  the  prose  writings,  though  no  such 
test  can  be  as  trustworthy  as  the  educated  ear  of  a listener 
to  a continued  reading. 

It  is  no  part  of  a succinct  biography,  such  as  the  present, 
to  furnish  an  account  in  detail  of  the  various  controversies 
of  the  time,  as  Milton  engaged  in  them.  The  reader  will 

72  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640-1660.  [chap. 

doubtless  be  content  with  the  bare  indication  of  the  sub- 
jects on  which  he  wrote.  The  whole  number  of  Milton’s 
political  pamphlets  is  twenty-five.  Of  these,  twenty-one 
are  written  in  English,  and  four  in  Latin.  Of  the  Tractate 
of  Education  and  the  four  divorce  pamphlets  something 
has  been  already  said.  Of  the  remaining  twenty,  nine, 
or  nearly  half,  relate  to  church  government,  or  ecclesiastical 
affairs ; eight  treat  of  the  various  crises  of  the  civil  strife ; 
and  two  are  personal  vindications  of  himself  against  one  of 
his  antagonists.  There  remains  one  tract  of  which  the 
subject  is  of  a more  general  and  permanent  nature,  the 
best  known  of  all  the  series,  Areopagitica  : A Speech  for 
the  Liberty  of  unlicensed  Printing , to  the  Parliament  of 
England . The  whole  series  of  twenty-five  extends  over 
a period  of  somewhat  less  than  twenty  years  ; the  earliest, 
viz.,  Of  Reformation  touching  Church  Discipline  in  Eng- 
land, and  the  Causes  that  hitherto  have  hindered  it,  having 
been  published  in  1641  ; the  latest,  entitled,  A ready  and 
easy  way  to  establish  a free  Commonwealth,  coming  out  in 
March,  1660,  after  the  torrent  of  royalism  had  set  in, 
which  was  to  sweep  away  the  men  and  the  cause  to  which 
Milton  had  devoted  himself.  Milton’s  pen  thus  accom- 
panied the  whole  of  the  Puritan  revolution  from  the 
modest  constitutional  opposition  in  which  it  commenced, 
through  its  unexpected  triumph,  to  its  crushing  overthrow 
by  the  royalist  and  clerical  reaction. 

The  autumn  of  1641  brought  with  it  a sensible  lull  in 
the  storm  of  revolutionary  passion.  Indeed,  there  began 
to  appear  all  the  symptoms  of  a reaction,  and  of  the 
formation  of  a solid  conservative  party,  likely  to  be  strong 
enough  to  check,  or  even  to  suppress,  the  movement.  The 
impulse  seemed  to  have  spent  itself,  and  a desire  for  rest 




from  political  agitation  began  to  steal  over  the  nation. 
Autumn  and  the  harvest  turn  men's  thoughts  towards 
country  occupations  and  sports.  The  King  went  off  to 
Scotland  in  August ; the  Houses  adjourned  till  the  20th 
October.  The  Scottish  army  had  been  paid  off,  and  had 
repassed  the  border ; the  Scottish  commissioners  and 
preachers  had  left  London. 

It  was  a critical  moment  for  the  Puritan  party.  Some 
very  considerable  triumphs  they  had  gained.  The  arch- 
enemy Strafford  had  been  brought  to  the  block ; Laud 
was  in  the  tower ; the  leading  members  of  Convocation, 
bishops,  deans,  and  archdeacons,  had  been  heavily  fined ; 
the  Star  Chamber  and  the  High  Commission  Court  had 
been  abolished  ; the  Stannary  and  Forestal  jurisdictions 
restrained.  But  the  Puritan  movement  aimed  at  far  more 
than  this.  It  was  not  only  that  the  root-and-branch  men 
were  pushing  for  a generally  more  levelling  policy,  but 
the  whole  Puritan  party  was  committed  to  a struggle  with 
the  hierarchy  of  the  Established  Church.  It  was  not  so 
much  that  they  demanded  more  and  more  reform,  with 
the  growing  appetite  of  revolution,  but  that  as  long  as 
bishops  existed,  nothing  that  had  been  wrested  from  them 
was  secure.  The  Puritans  could  not  exist  in  safety  side 
by  side  with  a church  whose  principle  was  that  there  was 
no  church  without  the  apostolic  succession.  The  abolition 
of  episcopacy  and  the  substitution  of  the  Presbyterian 
platform  was,  so  it  then  seemed,  a bare  measure  of  neces- 
sary precaution,  and  not  merely  the  extravagant  demand 
of  dissatisfied  spirits.  Add  to  this,  that  it  was  well 
understood  by  those  near  enough  to  the  principal  actors 
in  the  drama,  that  the  concessions  made  by  the  Court 
had  been  easily  made,  because  they  could  be  taken  back, 
when  the  time  should  come,  with  equal  ease.  Even  the 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


most  moderate  men,  who  were  satisfied  with  the  amount 
of  reform  already  obtained,  must  have  trembled  at  its 
insecurity.  The  Puritan  leaders  must  have  viewed  with 
dismay  the  tendency  in  the  nation  towards  a reaction  in 
favour  of  things  as  they  were. 

It  was  upon  this  condition  of  the  public  mind  that 
Milton  persistently  poured  pamphlet  after  pamphlet, 
successive  vials  of  apocalyptic  wrath.  He  exhausts  all 
the  resources  of  rhetoric,  and  plays  upon  every  note  in  the 
gamut  of  public  feeling,  that  he  may  rouse  the  apathetic, 
confirm  the  wavering,  dumbfound  the  malignant ; where 
there  was  zeal,  to  lan  it  into  flame ; where  there  was 
opposition,  to  cow  and  browbeat  it  by  indignant  scorn  and 
terrific  denunciation.  The  first  of  these  manifestoes  was 
(1)  Of  Ref ormation  touching  Church  Discipline , of  which 
I have  already  spoken.  This  was  immediately  followed 
by  (2)  Of  Prelaticall  Episcopacy.  This  tract  was  a reply, 
in  form,  to  a publication  of  Archbishop  Usher.  It  was 
about  the  end  of  May,  1641,  that  Usher  had  come 
forward  on  the  breach  with  his  Judgment  of  Dr.  Rainolds 
touching  the  Original  of  Episcopacy.  Rainolds,  who  had 
been  President  of  Corpus  (1598—1607),  had  belonged  to 
the  Puritan  party  in  his  day,  had  refused  a bishopric,  and 
was  known,  like  Usher  himself,  to  be  little  favourable  to 
the  exclusive  claims  of  the  high  prelatists.  He  was  thus 
an  unexceptionable  witness  to  adduce  in  favour  of  the 
apostolic  origin  of  the  distinction  between  bishop  and 
presbyter.  Usher,  in  editing  Rainolds’  opinions,  had 
backed  them  up  with  all  the  additional  citations  which 
his  vast  reading  could  supply. 

Milton  could  not  speak  with  the  weight  that  attached 
to  Usher,  the  most  learned  Churchman  of  the  age,  who 
had  spent  eighteen  years  in  going  through  a complete 




course  of  fathers  and  councils.  But,  in  the  first  paragraph 
of  his  answer,  Milton  adroitly  puts  the  controversy  upon 
a footing  by  which  antiquarian  research  is  put  out  of 
court.  Episcopacy  is  either  of  human  or  divine  origin. 
If  of  human  origin,  it  may  be  either  retained  or  abolished, 
as  may  be  found  expedient.  If  of  divine  appointment,  it 
must  be  proved  to  be  so  out  of  Scripture.  If  this  cannot 
be  proved  out  of  inspired  Scripture,  no  accumulation  of 
merely  human  assertion  of  the  point  can  be  of  the  least 
authority.  Having  thus  shut  out  antiquity  as  evidence 
in  the  case,  he  proceeds  nevertheless  to  examine  his  oppo- 
nent's authorities,  and  sets  them  aside  by  a style  of  argu- 
ment which  has  more  of  banter  than  of  criticism. 

One  incident  of  this  collision  between  Milton,  young 
and  unknown,  and  the  venerable  prelate,  whom  he  was 
assaulting  with  the  rude  wantonness  of  untempered  youth, 
deserves  to  be  mentioned  here.  Usher  had  incautiously 
included  the  Ignatian  epistles  among  his  authorities. 
This  laid  the  most  learned  man  of  the  day  at  the  mercy 
of  an  adversary  of  less  reading  than  himself.  Milton, 
who  at  least  knew  so  much  suspicion  of  the  genuineness 
of  these  remains  as  Casaubori’s  Exerciiations  on  Baronins 
and  Yedelin's  edition  (Geneva,  1623)  could  suggest 
pounced  upon  this  critical  flaw,  and  delightedly  denounced 
in  trenchant  tones  this  “ Perkin  Warbeck  of  Ignatius/’ 
and  the  “ supposititious  offspring  of  some  dozen  epistles.” 
This  rude  shock  it  was  which  set  Usher  upon  a more 
careful  examination  of  the  Ignatian  question.  The  result 
was  his  well-known  edition  of  Ignatius,  printed  1642, 
though  not  published  till  1644,  in  which  he  acknow- 
ledged the  total  spuriousness  of  nine  epistles,  and  the 
partial  interpolation  of  the  other  six.  I have  not  noticed 
in  Usher's  Prolegomena  that  he  alludes  to  Milton's 

76  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap, 

onslaught.  Nor,  indeed,  was  he  called  upon  to  do  so  in  a 
scientific  investigation,  as  Milton  had  brought  no  contribu- 
tion to  the  solution  of  the  question  beyond  sound  and  fury. 

Of  Milton’s  third  pamphlet,  entitled  (3)  Animadversions 
on  the  Remonstrants ’ defence  against  Smectymnuus,  it  need 
only  be  said  that  it  is  a violent  personal  onfall  upon 
Joseph  Hall,  bishop,  first,  of  Exeter  and  afterwards  of 
Norwich.  The  bishop,  by  descending  into  the  arena  of 
controversy,  had  deprived  himself  of  the  privilege  which 
his  literary  eminence  should  have  secured  to  him.  But 
nothing  can  excuse  or  reconcile  us  to  the  indecent  scur- 
rility with  which  he  is  assailed  in  Milton’s  pages,  which 
reflect  more  discredit  on  him  who  wrote  them,  than  on 
him  against  whom  they  are  written. 

The  fifth  pamphlet,  called  (5)  An  Apology  against  a 
Pamphlet  called  “ A Modest  Confutation , <^c.”  (1642),  is 
chiefly  remarkable  for  a defence  of  his  own  Cambridge 
career.  A man  who  throws  dirt,  as  Milton  did,  must  not 
be  surprised  if  some  of  it  comes  back  to  him.  A son  of 
Bishop  Hall,  coming  forward  as  his  father’s  champion 
and  avenger,  had  raked  up  a garbled  version  of  Milton’s 
quarrel  with  his  tutor  Chappell  (see  p.  6),  and  by  a 
further  distortion  had  brought  it  out  in  the  shape  that, 
“ after  an  inordinate  and  violent  youth  spent  at  the 
university,”  Milton  had  been  “ vomited  out  thence.” 
From  the  university  this  “ alchemist  of  slander  ” follows 
him  to  the  city,  and  declares  that  where  Milton’s  morn- 
ing haunts  are,  he  wisses  not,  but  that  his  afternoons  are 
spent  in  playhouses  and  bordelloes.  Milton  replies  to 
these  random  charges  by  a lengthy  account  of  himself  and 
his  studious  habits.  As  the  reader  may  expect  a specimen 
of  Milton’s  prose  style,  I quote  a part  of  this  autobio 
graphical  paragraph  : — 




“ I had  my  time,  as  others  have  who  have  good  learning 
bestowed  upon  them,  to  be  sent  to  those  places  where  the 
opinion  was  it  might  be  sooner  attained ; and,  as  the  manner 
is,  was  not  unstudied  in  those  authors  which  are  most  com- 
mended, whereof  some  were  grave  orators  and  historians,  whom 
methought  I loved  indeed,  but  as  my  age  then  was,  so  I under- 
stood them  ; others  were  the  smooth  elegiac  poets,  whereof  the 
schools  are  not  scarce  ; whom  both  for  the  pleasing  sound  of 
their  numerous  writing,  which  in  imitation  I found  most  easy, 
and  most  agreeable  to  nature’s  part  in  me,  and  for  their  matter, 
which  what  it  is  there  be  few  who  know  not,  I was  so  allowed 

to  read,  that  no  recreation  came  to  me  better  welcome 

Whence  having  observed  them  to  account  it  the  chief  glory  of 
their  wit,  in  that  they  were  ablest  to  judge,  to  praise,  and  by 
that  could  esteem  themselves  worthiest  to  love  those  high  per- 
fections which  under  one  or  other  name  they  took  to  celebrate, 
I thought  with  myself  by  every  instinct  and  presage  of  nature 
which  is  not  wont  to  be  false,  that  what  emboldened  them  to 
this  task  might  with  such  diligence  as  they  used  embolden  me, 
and  that  what  judgment,  wit,  or  elegance  was  my  share,  would 
herein  best  appear  and  best  value  itself  by  how  much  more 
wisely  and  with  more  love  of  virtue  I should  choose  (let  rude 

ears  be  absent)  the  object  of  not  unlike  praises Nor  blame 

it  in  those  years  to  propose  to  themselves  such  a reward  as  the 
noblest  dispositions  above  other  things  in  this  life  have  some- 
times preferred.  Whereof  not  to  be  sensible  when  good  and 
fair  in  one  person  meet,  argues  both  a gross  and  shallow  judg- 
ment, and  withal  an  ungentle  and  swainish  breast.  For  by  the 
firm  settling  of  these  persuasions  I became  so  much  a proficient, 
that  if  I found  those  authors  anywhere  speaking  unworthy 
things  of  themselves,  or  unchaste  of  those  names  which  before 
they  had  extolled,  this  effect  it  wrought  with  me,  from  that 
time  forward  their  art  I still  applauded,  but  the  men  I deplored ; 
and  above  them  all  preferred  the  two  famous  renowners  of  Beatrice 
and  Laura,  who  never  write  but  honour  of  them  to  whom  they 
devote  their  verse,  displaying  sublime  and  pure  thoughts  with- 
out transgression.  And  long  it  was  not  after,  when  I was 
confirmed  in  this  opinion,  that  he,  who  would  not  be  frustrate 


SECOND  PERIOD*  1640—1660. 


of  his  hope  to  write  well  hereafter  in  laudable  things,  ought 
himself  to  be  a true  poem,  that  is  a composition  and  pattern  of 
the  best  and  honourablest  things,  not  presuming  to  sing  high 
praises  of  heroic  men  or  famous  cities,  unless  he  have  in  him- 
self the  experience  and  the  practice  of  all  that  which  is  praise- 

“ These  reasonings  together  with  a certain  niceness  of  nature, 
an  honest  haughtiness  and  self-esteem,  either  of  what  I was  or 
what  I might  be,  which  let  envy  call  pride,  and  lastly  that 
modesty,  whereof,  though  not  in  the  title-page,  yet  here,  I may 
be  excused  to  make  some  beseeming  profession,  all  these  uniting 
the  supply  of  their  natural  aid  together,  kept  me  still  above 
those  low  descents  of  mind,  beneath  which  he  must  deject  and 
plunge  himself,  that  can  agree  to  saleable  and  unlawful  pros- 

“ Next,  for  hear  me  out  now,  readers,  that  1 may  tell  ye 
whither  my  younger  feet  wandered,  I betook  me  among  those 
lofty  fables  and  romances  which  recount  in  solemn  cantos  the 
deeds  of  knighthood  founded  by  our  victorious  kings,  and  from 
hence  had  in  renown  over  all  Christendom.  There  I read  it  in 
the  oath  of  every  knight,  that  he  should  defend  to  the  expence 
of  his  best  blood,  or  of  his  life  if  it  so  befel  him,  the  honour  and 
chastity  of  virgin  or  matron.  From  whence  even  then  I learnt 
what  a noble  virtue  chastity  ever  must  be,  to  the  defence  of 
which  so  many  worthies  by  such  a dear  adventure  of  themselves 
had  sworn.  And  if  I found  in  the  story  afterwards  any  of  them 
by  word  or  deed  breaking  that  oath,  I judged  it  the  same  fault 
of  the  poet  as  that  which  is  attributed  to  Homer  to  have  written 
undecent  things  of  the  gods.  Only  this  my  mind  gave  me,  that 
every  free  and  gentle  spirit  without  that  oath  ought  to  be 
borne  a knight,  nor  needed  to  expect  the  gilt  spur,  or  the  laying 
of  a sword  upon  his  shoulder,  to  stir  him  up  both  by  his  counsel 
and  his  arm  to  serve  and  protect  the  weakness  of  any  attempted 
chastity.  So  that  even  those  books  which  to  many  others  have 
been  the  fuel  of  wantonness  and  loose  living,  I cannot  think  how 
unless  by  divine  indulgence,  proved  to  me  so  many  incitements 
to  the  love  and  steadfast  observation  of  virtue.” 

This  is  one  of  the  autobiographical  oases  in  these  pain- 




phlets,  which  are  otherwise  arid  deserts  of  sand,  scorched 
by  the  fire  of  extinct  passion.  It  may  be  asked  why  it  is 
that  a few  men,  Gibbon  or  Milton,  are  indulged  without 
challenge  in  talk  about  themselves,  which  would  be 
childish  vanity  or  odious  egotism  in  others.  When  a 
Frenchman  writes,  “ Nous  avons  tous,  nous  autres  Fran- 
9ais,  des  seduisantes  qualites  ” (Gaffarei),  he  is  ridiculous. 
The  difference  is  not  merely  that  we  tolerate  in  a man  of 
confessed  superiority  what  would  be  intolerable  in  an 
equal.  This  is  true  ; but  there  is  a further  distinction  of 
moral  quality  in  men’s  confessions.  In  Milton,  as  in 
Gibbon,  the  gratification  of  self-love,  which  attends  all 
autobiography,  is  felt  to  be  subordinated  to  a nobler 
intention.  The  lofty  conception  which  Milton  formed 
of  his  vocation  as  a poet,  expands  his  soul  and  absorbs  his 
personality.  It  is  his  office,  and  not  himself,  which  he 
magnifies.  The  details  of  his  life  and  nurture  are  im- 
portant, not  because  they  belong  to  him,  but  because  he 
belongs,  by  dedication,  to  a high  and  sacred  calling.  He 
is  extremely  jealous,  not  of  his  own  reputation,  but  of  the 
credit  which  is  due  to  lofty  endeavour*.  We  have  only  to 
compare  Milton’s  magnanimous  assumption  of  the  first 
place  with  the  paltry  conceit  with  which,  in  the  following 
age  of  Dryden  and  Pope,  men  spoke  of  themselves  as 
authors,  to  see  the  wide  difference  between  the  profes- 
sional vanity  of  successful  authorship  and  the  proud  con- 
sciousness of  a prophetic  mission.  Milton  leads  a 
dedicated  life,  and  has  laid  down  for  himself  the  law 
that  “he  who  would  not  be  frustrate  of  his  hope  to  write 
well  hereafter  in  laudable  things,  ought  himself  to  be  a 
true  poem.” 

If  Milton  had  not  been  the  author  of  Lycidas  and 
Paradise  Lost , his  political  pamphlets  would  have  been 

80  SECOND  PEEIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

as  forgotten  as  are  the  thousand  civil  war  tracts  preserved 
in  the  Thomason  collection  in  the  Museum,  or  have 
served,  at  most,  as  philological  landmarks.  One,  how- 
ever, of  his  prose  tracts  has  continued  to  enjoy  some 
degree  of  credit  down  to  the  present  time,  for  its  matter 
as  well  as  for  its  words,  Areopagitica.  This  tract  belongs 
to  the  year  1644,  the  most  fertile  year  in  Milton’s  life,  as 
in  it  he  brought  out  two  of  his  divorce  tracts,  the 
Tractate  of  Education , and  the  Areopagitica . As  Milton’s 
moving  principle  was  not  any  preconceived  system  of 
doctrine  but  the  passion  for  liberty  in  general,  it  was 
natural  that  he  should  plead,  when  occasion  called,  for 
liberty  of  the  press,  among  others.  The  occasion  was  one 
personal  to  himself. 

It  is  well  known  that,  early  in  the  history  of  printing, 
governments  became  jealous  of  this  new  instrument  for 
influencing  opinion.  In  England,  in  1556,  under  Mary, 
the  Stationers’  Company  was  invested  with  legal  privileges, 
having  the  twofold  object  of  protecting  the  book  trade  and 
controlling  writers.  All  publications  were  required  to 
be  registered  in  the  register  of  the  company.  U o per- 
sons could  set  up  a press  without  a licence,  or  print 
anything  which  had  not  been  previously  approved  by 
some  official  censor.  The  court,  which  had  come  to  be 
known  as  the  court  of  Star-chamber,  exercised  criminal 
jurisdiction  over  offenders,  and  even  issued  its  own 
decrees  for  the  regulation  of  printing.  The  arbitrary 
action  of  this  court  had  no  small  share  in  bringing  about 
the  resistance  to  Charles  I.  But  the  fall  of  the  royal 
authority  did  not  mean  the  emancipation  of  the  press. 
The  Parliament  had  no  intention  of  letting  go  the  control 
which  the  monarchy  had  exercised  ; the  incidence  of  the 
coercion  was  to  be  shifted  from  themselves  upon  their 




opponents.  The  Star-chamber  was  abolished,  but  its 
powers  of  search  and  seizure  were  transferred  to  the  Com- 
pany of  Stationers.  Licensing  was  to  go  on  as  before,  but 
to  be  exercised  by  special  commissioners,  instead  of  by  the 
Archbishop  and  the  Bishop  of  London.  Only  whereas, 
before,  contraband  had  consisted  of  Presbyterian  books, 
henceforward  it  was  Catholic  and  Anglican  books  which 
would  be  suppressed. 

Such  was  not  Milton's  idea  of  the  liberty  of  thought 
and  speech  in  a free  commonwealth.  He  had  himself 
written  for  the  Presbyterians  four  unlicensed  pamphlets. 
It  was  now  open  to  him  to  write  any  number,  and  to  get 
them  licensed,  provided  they  were  written  on  the  same 
side.  This  was  not  liberty,  as  he  had  learned  it  in  his 
classics,  “ubi  sentire  quse  velis,  et  quge  sentias  dicere 
licet."  Over  and  above  this  encroachment  on  the  liberty 
of  the  free  citizen,  it  so  happened  that  at  this  moment 
Milton  himself  was  concerned  to  ventilate  an  opinion 
which  was  not  Presbyterian,  and  had  no  chance  of  passing 
a Presbyterian  licenser.  His  Doctrine  and  Discipline  of 
Divorce  was  just  ready  for  press  when  the  ordinance  of 
1643  came  into  operation.  He  published  it  without 
licence  and  without  printer's  name,  in  defiance  of  the  law, 
and  awaited  the  consequences.  There  were  no  conse- 
quences. He  repeated  the  offence  in  a second  edition  in 
February,  1644,  putting  his  name  now  (the  first  edition 
had  been  anonymous),  and  dedicating  it  to  the  very  Par- 
liament whose  ordinance  he  was  setting  at  nought.  This 
time  the  Commons,  stirred  up  by  a petition  from  the 
Company  of  Stationers,  referred  the  matter  to  the  com- 
mittee of  printing.  It  went  no  further.  Either  it  was 
deemed  inexpedient  to  molest  so  sound  a Parliamentarian 
as  Milton,  or  Cromwell's  “ accommodation  resolution  ” of 


82r  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660,  [chap. 

September  13,  1644,  opened  the  eyes  of  the  Presbyterian 
zealots  to  the  existence  in  the  kingdom  of  a new,  and 
much  wider,  phase  of  opinion,  which  ominously  threat- 
ened the  compact  little  edifice  of  Presbyterian  truth  that 
they  had  been  erecting  with  a profound  conviction  of  its 
exclusive  orthodoxy. 

The  occurrence  had  been  sufficient  to  give  a new  direc- 
tion to  Milton’s  thoughts.  Regardless  of  the  fact  that  his 
plea  for  liberty  in  marriage  had  fallen  upon  deaf  ears,  he 
would  plead  for  liberty  of  speech.  The  Areopagitica , for 
the  Liberty  of  unlicensed  Printing , came  out  in  November, 
1644,  an  unlicensed,  unregistered  publication,  without 
printer’s  or  bookseller’s  name.  It  was  cast  in  the  form  of 
a speech  addressed  to  the  Parliament.  The  motto  was 
taken  from  Euripides,  and  printed  in  the  original  Greek, 
which  was  not,  when  addressed  to  the  Parliament  of 
1644,  the  absurdity  which  it  would  be  now.  The  title  is 
less  appropriate,  being  borrowed  from  the  Areopagitic 
Discourse  of  Isocrates,  between  which  and  Milton’s 
Speech  there  is  no  resemblance  either  in  subject  or  style. 
All  that  the  two  productions  have  in  common  is  their  form. 
They  are  both  unspoken  orations,  written  to  the  address 
of  a representative  assembly — the  one  to  the  Boule  or 
Senate  of  Athens,  the  other  to  the  Parliament  of  England 

Milton’s  Speech  is  in  his  own  best  style;  a copious 
flood  of  majestic  eloquence,  the  outpouring  of  a noble 
soul  with  a divine  scorn  of  narrow  dogma  and  paltry 
aims.  But  it  is  a mere  pamphlet,  extemporised  in,  at 
most,  a month  or  two,  without  research  or  special  know- 
ledge, with  no  attempt  to  ascertain  general  principles,  and 
more  than  Milton’s  usual  disregard  of  method.  A jurist’s 
question  is  here  handled  by  a rhetorician.  He  has 
preached  a noble  and  heart-stirring  sermon  on  his  text, 



but  the  problem  for  the  legislator  remains  where  it  was. 
The  vagueness  and  confusion  of  the  thoughts  finds  a 
vehicle  in  language  which  is  too  often  overcrowded  and 
obscure.  I think  the  Areopagitica  has  few  or  no 
offences  against  taste ; on  the  other  hand,  it  has  few  or 
none  of  those  grand  passages  which  redeem  the  scurrility 
of  his  political  pamphlets.  The  passage  in  which  Milton’s 
visit  to  Galileo  “ grown  old,  a prisoner  to  the  Inquisition,” 
is  mentioned,  is  often  quoted  for  its  biographical  interest ; 
and  the  terse  dictum,  “ as  good  almost  kill  a man  as  kill  a 
good  book,”  has  passed  into  a current  axiom.  A paragraph 
at  the  close,  where  he  hints  that  the  time  may  be  come 
to  suppress  the  suppressors,  intimates,  but  so  obscurely 
as  to  be  likely  to  escape  notice,  that  Milton  had  already 
made  up  his  mind  that  a struggle  with  the  Presbyterian 
party  was  to  be  the  sequel  of  the  overthrow  of  the 
Royalists.  He  has  not  yet  arrived  at  the  point  he  will 
hereafter  reach,  of  rejecting  the  very  idea  of  a minister 
of  religion,  but  he  is  already  aggrieved  by  the  implicit 
faith  which  the  Puritan  laity,  who  had  cast  out  bishops, 
were  beginning  to  bestow  upon  their  pastor  ; “ a factor  to 
whose  care  and  credit  he  may  commit  the  whole  managing 
of  his  religious  affairs.”  Finally,  it  mnst  be  noted,  that 
Milton,  though  he  had  come  to  see  round  Presbyterianism, 
had  not,  in  1644,  shaken  off  all  dogmatic  profession.  His 
toleration  of  opinion  was  far  from  complete.  He  would 
call  in  the  intervention  of  the  executioner  in  the  case  of 
“ mischievous  and  libellous  books,”  and  could  not  bring 
himself  to  contemplate  the  toleration  of  Popery  and  open 
superstition,  “ which  as  it  extirpates  all  religious  and  civil 
supremacies,  so  itself  should  be  extirpate ; provided  first 
that  all  charitable  and  compassionate  means  be  used  to 
win  and  gain  the  weak  and  misled,” 


SECOND  PEKIOB.  1640—1660, 

[CH.  7L 

The  Areopagitica , as  might  be  expected,  produced  bo 
effect  upon  the  legislation  of  the  Long  Parliament,  of  whom 
(says  Hailam)  “very  few  acts  of  political  wisdom  or 
courage  are  recorded.”  Individual  licensers  became  more 
lax  in  the  performance  of  the  duty,  but  this  is  reasonably 
to  be  ascribed  to  the  growing  spirit  of  independency — a 
spirit  which  was  incompatible  with  any  embargo  on  the 
utterance  of  private  opinion.  A curious  epilogue  to  the 
history  of  this  publication  is  the  fact,  first  brought  to  light 
by  Mr.  Masson,  that  the  author  of  the  Areopagitica , at  a 
later  time,  acted  himself  in  the  capacity  of  licenser.  It 
was  in  1651,  under  the  Commonwealth,  Marchmont 
Needham  being  editor  of  the  weekly  paper  called  Mer- 
curius  Politicus , that  Milton  was  associated  with  him  as  his 
censor  or  supervising  editor.  Mr.  Masson  conjectures, 
with  some  probability,  that  the  leading  articles  of  the 
Mercurius , during  part  of  the  year  1651,  received  touches 
from  Milton’s  hand.  But  this  was,  after  all,  rather  in 
the  character  of  editor,  whose  business  it  is  to  see  that 
nothing  improper  goes  into  the  paper,  than  in  that  of 
press  licenser  in  the  sense  in  which  the  Areopagitica  had 
denounced  it. 


BIOGRAPHICAL.  1640—1649. 

tn  September,  1645,  Milton  left  the  garden-house  in 
Aldersgate,  for  a larger  house  in  Barbican,  in  the 
same  neighbourhood,  but  a little  further  from  the  city 
gate,  i.  e,  more  in  the  country.  The  larger  house  was, 
perhaps,  required  for  the  accommodation  of  his  pupils 
(see  above,  p.  44),  but  it  served  to  shelter  his  wife’s 
family,  when  they  were  thrown  upon  the  world  by  the 
surrender  of  Oxford  in  June,  1646.  In  this  Barbican 
house  Mr.  Powell  died  at  the  end  of  that  year.  Milton 
had  been  promised  with  his  wife  a portion  of  1000Z.;  but 
Mr.  Powell’s  affairs  had  long  been  in  a very  embarrassed 
condition,  and  now  by  the  consequences  of  delinquency 
that  condition  had  become  one  of  absolute  ruin.  Great 
pains  have  been  bestowed  by  Mr.  Masson  in  unravelling 
the  entanglement  of  the  Powell  accounts.  The  data  which 
remain  are  ample,  and  we  cannot  but  feel  astonished  at  the 
accuracy  with  which  our  national  records,  in  more  im- 
portant matters  so  defective,  enable  us  to  set  out  a debtor 
and  creditor  balance  of  the  estate  of  a private  citizen,  who 
died  more  than  200  years  ago.  But  the  circumstances  are 
peculiarly  intricate,  and  we  are  still  unable  to  reconcile 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660, 


Mr.  Powell’s  will  with  the  composition  records,  both  of 
which  are  extant.  As  a compounding  delinquent,  his  fine, 
assessed  at  the  customary  rate  of  two  years’  income,  was 
fixed  by  the  commissioners  at  180£.  The  commissioners 
must  have,  therefore,  been  satisfied  that  his  income  did 
not  exceed  901.  a year.  Yet  by  his  will  of  date  December 
30,  1646,  he  leaves  his  estate  of  Forest  Hill,  the  annual 
value  of  which  alone  far  exceeded  9QZ.,  to  his  eldest  son. 
This  property  is  not  mentioned  in  the  inventory  of  his 
estate,  real  and  personal,  laid  before  the  commissioners, 
sworn  to  by  the  delinquent,  and  by  them  accepted.  The 
possible  explanation  is  that  the  Forest  Hill  property  had 
really  passed  into  the  possession,  by  foreclosure,  of  the 
mortgagee,  Sir  Bobert  Pye,  who  sate  for  Woodstock  in 
the  Long  Parliament,  but  that  Mr.  Powell,  making  his 
will  on  his  deathbed,  pleased  himself  with  the  fancy  of 
leaving  his  son  and  heir  an  estate  which  was  no  longer 
his  to  dispose  of.  Putting  Forest  Hill  out  of  the  account, 
it  would  appear  that  the  sequestrators  had  dealt  somewhat 
harshly  with  Mr.  Powell ; for  they  had  included  in  their 
estimate  one  doubtful  asset  of  5Q0Z.,  and  one  non-existent 
of  4QQZ.  This  last  item  was  a stock  of  timber  stated  to 
be  at  Forest  Hill,  but  which  had  really  been  appropriated 
without  payment  by  the  Parliamentarians,  and  part  of 
it  voted  by  Parliament  itself  towards  repair  of  the  church 
in  the  staunch  Puritan  town  of  Banbury. 
xTke  upshot  of  the  whole  transaction  is  that,  in  satisfac- 
tion of  his  claim  of  150QZ.  (1Q00Z.  his  wife’s  dower,  500Z. 
an  old  loan  of  1627),  Milton  came  into  possession  of  some 
property  at  Wheatley.  This  property,  consisting  of  the 
tithes  of  Wheatley,  certain  cottages,  and  three  and  a half 
prd  lands,  had  in  the  time  of  the  disturbances  pro- 
duced only  40Z.  a year.  But  as  the  value  of  all  property 




improved  when  the  civil  war  came  to  an  end,  Milton 
found  the  whole  could  now  be  let  for  80 l.  But  then  out 
of  this  he  had  to  pay  Mr.  Powell's  composition,  reduced 
to  130Z.  on  Milton's  petition,  and  the  widow's  jointure, 
computed  at  26Z.  13s.  4 d.  per  annum.  What  of  income 
remained  after  these  disbursements  he  might  apply 
towards  repaying  himself  the  old  loan  of  1627.  This  was 
all  Milton  ever  saw  of  the  10CM7  1 ‘ 1 ^ 11  *J1 

was  ruined,  had  promised  as  i 

months  by  that  of  J ohn  Milton,  senior.  He  died  in  the 
house  in  Barbican,  and  the  entry,  u John  Milton,  gentle- 
man, 15  (March),"  among  the  burials  in  1646,  is  still  to  be 
seen  in  the  register  of  the  parish  of  St.  Giles’s,  Cripplegate. 
A host  of  eminent  men  have  traced  the  first  impulse  of 
their  genius  to  their  mother.  Milton  always  acknowledged 
with  just  gratitude  that  it  was  to  his  father's  discerning  taste 
and  fostering  care,  that  he  owed  the  encouragement  of  his 
studies,  and  the  leisure  which  rendered  them  possible. 
He  has  registered  this  gratitude  in  both  prose  and  verse. 
The  Latin  hexameters,  “ Ad  patrern,”  written  at  Horton, 
are  inspired  by  a feeling  far  beyond  commonplace  filial 
piety,  and  a warmth  which  is  rare  indeed  in  neo-Latin 
versification.  And  when,  in  his  prose  pamphlets,  he  has 
occasion  to  speak  of  himself,  he  does  not  omit  the  acknow- 
ledgment of  “ the  ceaseless  diligence  and  care  of  my  father, 
whom  God  recompense."  (. Reason  of  Church  Government.) 
j After  the  death  of  his  father,  being  now  more  at  ease 
in  his  circumstances,  he  gave  up  taking  pupils,  and 
quitted  the  large  house  in  Barbican  for  a smaller  in  High 
Holborn,  opening  backwards  into  Lincoln's-Inn-Fields. 
This  removal  was  about  Michaelmas,  1647, 

the  high-flying  magnificence 

Powell's  death  was  followed  in  less  than  three 

88  SECOND  PEKIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

During  this  period,  1639 — 1649,  while  his  interests  were 
engaged  by  the  all-absorbing  events  of  the  civil  strife,  he 
wrote  no  poetry,  or  none  deserving  the  name.  All  artists 
have  intervals  of  non-productiveness,  usually  caused  by 
exhaustion.  This  was  not  Milton’s  case.  His  genius 
was  not  his  master,  nor  could  it  pass,  like  that  of 
Leonardo  da  Yinci,  unmoved  through  the  most  tragic 
scenes.  He  deliberately  suspended  it  at  the  call  of  what  he 
believed  to  be  duty  to  his  country.  His  unrivalled  power 
of  expression  was  placed  at  the  service  of  a passionate 
political  conviction.  This  prostitution  of  faculty  avenged 
itself ; for  when  he  did  turn  to  poetry,  his  strength  was 
gone  from  him.  The  period  is  chiefly  marked  by  sonnets, 
not  many,  one  in  a year,  or  thereabouts.  That  On  the 
religious  memory  of  Mrs.  Catherine  Thomson , in  1646,  is 
the  lowest  point  touched  by  Milton  in  poetry,  for  his 
metrical  psalms  do  not  deserve  the  name. 

The  sonnet,  or  Elegy  on  Mrs.  Catherine  Thomson  in 
the  form  of  a sonnet,  though  in  poetical  merit  not  distin- 
guishable from  the  average  religious  verse  of  the  Caroline 
age,  has  an  interest  for  the  biographer.  It  breathes 
a holy  calm  that  is  in  sharp  contrast  with  the  angry 
virulence  of  the  pamphlets,  which  were  being  written  at 
this  very  time  by  the  same  pen.  Amid  his  intemperate 
denunciations  of  his  political  and  ecclesiastical  foes,  it 
seems  that  Milton  did  not  inwardly  forfeit  the  peace  which 
passeth  all  understanding.  He  had  formerly  said  himself 
(Doctrine  and  Disc .),  “ nothing  more  than  disturbance  of 
mind  suspends  us  from  approaching  to  God,”  How,  out 
of  all  the  clamour  and  the  bitterness  of  the  battle  of 
the  sects,  he  can  retire  and  be  alone  with  his  heavenly 
aspirations,  which  have  lost  none  of  their  ardour  by 
having  laid  aside  all  their  sectarianism.  His  genius  has 
forsaken  him,  but  his  soul  still  glows  with  the  fervour  of 



devotion.  And  even  of  this  sonnet  we  may  say  what 
Ellis  says  of  Catullus,  that  Milton  never  ceases  to  bo  a 
poet,  even  when  his  words  are  most  prosaic. 

The  sonnet  (xv.)  On  the  Lord- General  Fairfax , at  the 
siege  of  Colchester , written  in  1648,  is  again  a manifesto 
of  the  writer’s  political  feelings,  nobly  uttered,  and  invest- 
ing party  with  a patriotic  dignity  not  unworthy  of  the 
man,  Milton.  It  is  a hortatory  lyric,  a trumpet-call  to  his 
party  in  the  moment  of  victory  to  remember  the  duties 
which  that  victory  imposed  upon  them.  It  is  not  with- 
out the  splendid  resonance  of  the  Italian  canzone.  But 
it  can  scarcely  be  called  poetry,  expressing,  as  it  does, 
facts  directly,  and  not  indirectly  through  their  imaginative 
equivalents.  Fairfax  was,  doubtless,  well  worthy  that 
Milton  should  have  commemorated  him  in  a higher  strain. 
Of  Fairfax’s  eminent  qualities  the  sonnet  only  dwells  on 
two,  his  personal  valour,  which  had  been  tried  in  many 
fights— he  had  been  three  times  dangerously  wounded  in 
the  Yorkshire  campaign — and  his  superiority  to  sordid 
interests.  Of  his  generalship,  in  which  he  was  second  to 
Cromwell  only,  and  of  his  love  of  arts  and  learning, 
nothing  is  said,  though  the  last  was  the  passion  of  his 
life,  for  which  at  forty  he  renounced  ambition.  Perhaps 
in  1648  Milton,  who  lived  a very  retired  life,  did  not 
know  of  these  tastes,  and  had  not  heard  that  it  was  by 
Fairfax’s  care  that  the  Bodleian  library  was  saved  from 
wreck  on  the  surrender  of  Oxford  in  1646.  And  it  was 
not  till  later,  years  after  the  sonnet  was  written,  that  the 
same  Fairfax,  “ whose  name  in  arms  through  Europe 
rings,”  became  a competitor  of  Milton  in  the  attempt  to 
paraphrase  the  Psalms  in  metre. 

Milton’s  paraphrase  of  the  Psalms  belongs  to  history, 
but  to  the  history  of  psalmody,  not  that  of  poetry.  At  St. 
Paul’s  School,  at  fifteen,  the  boy  had  turned  two  psalmss 

80  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640— 16£0. 

the  114th  and  the  136th,  by  way  of  exercise.  That  in 
his  day  of  plenary  inspiration,  Milton,  who  disdained 
Dryden  as  “ a rhymist  but  no  poet,”  and  has  recorded  his 
own  impatience  writh  the  “ drawling  versifiers,”  should 
have  undertaken  to  grind  down  the  noble  antistrophic 
lyrics  of  the  Hebrew  bard  into  ballad  rhymes  for  the  use 
of  Puritan  worship,  would  have  been  impossible.  But  the 
idea  of  being  useful  to  his  country  had  acquired  exclusive 
possession  of  his  mind.  Even  his  faculty  of  verse  should 
be  employed  in  the  good  cause.  If  Parliament  had  set  him 
the  task,  doubtless  he  would  have  willingly  undertaken  it, 
as  Corneille,  in  the  blindness  of  Catholic  obedience,  versified 
the  Imitatio  Christi  at  the  command  of  the  Jesuits. 
Milton  was  not  officially  employed,  but  voluntarily  took 
up  the  work.  The  Puritans  were  bent  upon  substituting 
a new  version  of  the  Davidic  Psalms  for  that  of  Sternhold 
and  Hopkins,  for  no  other  reason  than  that  the  latter 
formed  part  of  the  hated  Book  of  Common  Prayer.  The 
Commons  had  pronounced  in  favour  of  a version  by  one  of 
their  own  members,  the  staunch  Puritan  M.P.  for  Truro, 
Francis  Rouse.  The  Lords  favoured  a rival  book,  and 
numerous  other  claimants  were  before  the  public.  Dis- 
satisfied with  any  of  these  attempts,  Milton  would  essay 
himself.  In  1648  he  turned  nine  psalms,  and  recurring  to 
the  task  in  1 653,  “ did  into  verse  ” eight  more.  He  thought 
these  specimens  worth  preserving,  and  annexing  to  the 
volume  of  his  poems  which  he  published  himself  in  1673. 
As  this  doggerel  continues  to  encumber  each  succeeding 
edition  of  the  Poetical  Works , it  is  as  well  that  Milton  did 
not  persevere  with  his  experiment  and  produce  a complete 
Psalter.  He  prudently  abandoned  a task  in  which  success 
is  impossible.  A metrical  psalm,  being  a compromise 
between  the  psalm  and  the  hymn,  like  other  compro- 




mises,  misses,  rather  than  combines,  the  distinctive  ex- 
cellences of  the  things  united.  That  Milton  should  ever 
have  attempted  what  poetry  forbids,  is  only  another  proof 
how  entirely  at  this  period  more  absorbing  motives  had 
possession  of  his  mind,  and  overbore  his  poetical  judgment. 
It  is  a coincidence  worth  remembering  that  Milton’s  con- 
temporary, Lord  Clarendon,  was  at  this  very  time  solacing 
his  exile  at  Madrid  by  composing,  not  a version  but  a com- 
mentary upon  the  Psalms,  “ applying  those  devotions  to 
the  troubles  of  this  time.” 

Yet  all  the  while  that  he  was  thus  unfaithful  in  prac- 
tice to  his  art,  it  was  poetry  that  possessed  his  real  affec- 
tions, and  the  reputation  of  a poet  which  formed  his 
ambition.  It  was  a temporary  separation,  and  not  a 
divorce,  which  he  designed.  In  each  successive  pamphlet 
he  reiterates  his  undertaking  to  redeem  his  pledge  of  a 
great  work,  as  soon  as  liberty  shall  be  consolidated  in  the 
realm.  Meanwhile,  as  an  earnest  of  what  should  be  here- 
after, he  permitted  the  publication  of  a collection  of  his 
early  poems. 

This  little  volume  of  some  200  pages,  rude  in  execution 
as  it  is,  ranks  among  the  highest  prizes  of  the  book  col- 
lector, very  few  copies  being  extant,  and  those  mostly  in 
public  libraries.  It  appeared  in  1645,  and  owed  its 
appearance,  not  to  the  vanity  of  the  author,  but  to  the 
seal  of  a publisher.  Humphrey  Moseley,  at  the  sign  of 
the  Prince’s  Arms,  in  St.  Paul’s  Churchyard,  suggested 
the  collection  to  Milton,  and  undertook  the  risk  of  it, 
though  knowing,  as  he  says  in  the  prefixed  address  of 
The  Stationer  to  the  Reader,  that  “the  slightest  pam- 
phlet is  nowadays  more  vendible  than  the  works  of 
learnedest  men.”  It  may  create  some  surprise  that,  in 
1645,  there  should  have  been  any  public  in  England  for 

92  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640— 1660.  [cel  vix, 

a volume  of  verse.  Kaseby  had  been  fought  in  June, 
Philiphaugh  in  September,  Fairfax  and  Cromwell  were 
continuing  their  victorious  career  in  the  west,  Chester, 
Worcester,  and  the  stronghold  of  Oxford,  alone  holding 
out  for  the  King.  It  was  clear  that  the  conflict  was 
decided  in  favour  of  the  Parliament,  but  men's  minds 
must  have  been  strung  to  a pitch  of  intense  expectation 
as  to  what  kind  of  settlement  was  to  come.  Yet,  at  the 
very  crisis  of  the  civil  strife,  we  find  a London  publisher 
able  to  bring  out  the  Poems  of  Waller  (1644),  and  suffi- 
ciently encouraged  by  their  reception  to  follow  them  up, 
in  the  next  year,  with  the  Poems  of  Mr.  John  Milton. 
Are  we  warranted  in  inferring  that  a finer  public  was 
beginning  to  loathe  the  dreary  theological  polemic  of 
which  it  had  had  a surfeit,  and  turned  to  a book  of  poetry 
as  that  which  was  most  unlike  the  daily  garbage,  just  as 
a later  public  absorbed  five  thousand  copies  of  Scott's 
Lay  of  the  Last  Minstrel  in  the  year  of  Austerlitz  ? One 
would  like  to  know  who  were  the  purchasers  of  Milton 
and  Waller,  when  the  cavalier  families  were  being  ruined 
by  confiscations  and  compositions,  and  Puritan  families 
would  turn  with  pious  horror  from  the  very  name  of  a 

Milton  was  himself  editor  of  his  own  volume,  and  pre- 
fixed .to  it,  again  out  of  Yirgil's  Eclogues,  the  charac- 
teristic motto,  “ Baccare  front em  Cingite,  ne  vati  noceat 
mala  lingua  futuro ,"  indicating  that  his  poetry  was  all  to 




The  Crown  having  fallen  on  January  30,  1649,  and  the 
House  of  Lords  by  the  vote  of  February  6 following, 
the  sovereign  power  in  England  was  for  the  moment  in 
the  hands  of  that  fragment  of  the  Long  Parliament,  which 
remained  after  the  various  purges  and  expulsions  to  which 
it  had  been  subjected.  Some  of  the  excluded  members 
were  allowed  to  return,  and  by  occasional  new  elections 
in  safe  boroughs  the  number  of  members  was  raised  to 
one  hundred  and  fifty,  securing  an  average  attendance  of 
about  seventy.  The  future  government  of  the  nation  was 
declared  to  be  by  way  of  a republic,  and  the  writs  ran 
in  the  name  of  the  Keepers  of  the  Liberty  of  England, 
by  authority  of  Parliament.  Rut  the  real  centre  of 
power  was  the  Council  of  State,  a body  of  forty-one 
members,  nominated  for  a period  of  twelve  months,  ac- 
cording to  a plan  of  constitution  devised  by  the  army 
leaders.  In  the  hands  of  this  republican  Council  was 
concentrated  a combination  of  power  such  as  had  never 
been  wielded  by  any  English  monarch.  But,  though  its 
attribution  of  authority  was  great,  its  exercise  of  the 
powers  lodged  with  it  was  hampered  by  differences  among 


SECOND  PERIOD.  164D-160O. 


its  members,  and  the  disaffection  of  various  interests  and 
parties.  The  Council  of  State  contained  most  of  the 
notable  statesmen  of  the  Parliamentary  party,  and  had 
before  it  a vast  task  in  reorganizing  the  administration  of 
England,  in  the  conduct  of  an  actual  war  in  Ireland,  a pos- 
sible war  in  Scotland,  and  in  the  maintenance  of  the  honour 
of  the  republic  in  its  relations  with  foreign  princes. 

The  Council  of  State  prepared  the  business  for  its  con- 
sideration through  special  committees  for  special  depart- 
ments of  the  public  service.  The  Committee  for  Foreign 
Affairs  consisted  of  Whitelocke,  Vane,  Lord  Lisle,  Lord 
Denbigh,  Mr.  Marten,  Mr.  Lisle.  A secretary  was  re- 
quired to  translate  despatches,  both  those  which  were 
sent  out,  and  those  which  were  received.  Nothing  seems 
more  natural  than  that  the  author  of  the  Tenure  of  Kings 
and  Magistrates , who  was  at  once  a staunch  Parliamen- 
tarian, an  accomplished  Latin  scholar,  and  conversant 
with  more  than  one  of  the  spoken  languages  of  the  Con- 
tinent, should  be  thought  of  for  the  office.  Yet  so  little 
was  Milton  personally  known,  living  as  he  did  the  life  of 
a retired  student,  that  it  was  the  accident  of  his  having 
the  acquaintance  of  one  of  the  new  Council  to  which  he 
owed  the  appointment. 

The  post  was  offered  him,  hut  would  he  accept  it  ? He 
had  never  ceased  to  revolve  in  his  mind  subjects  capable 
of  poetical  treatment,  and  to  cherish  his  own  vocation  as 
the  classical  poet  of  the  English  language.  Peace  had 
come,  and  leisure  was  within  his  reach.  He  was  poor, 
but  his  wants  were  simple,  and  he  had  enough  wherewith 
to  meet  them.  Already,  in  1649,  unmistakable  symp- 
toms threatened  his  sight,  and  warned  him  of  the  necessity 
of  the  most  rigid  economy  in  the  use  of  the  eyes.  The 
duties  that  he  was  now  asked  to  undertake  were  in- 




definite  already  in  amount,  and  would  doubtless  extend 
themselves  if  zealously  discharged. 

But  the  temptation  was  strong,  and  he  did  not  resist  it. 
The  increase  of  income  was,  doubtless,  to  Milton  the 
smallest  among  the  inducements  now  offered  him.  He 
had  thought  it  a sufficient  and  an  honourable  employment 
to  serve  his  country  with  his  pen  as  a volunteer.  Here 
was  an  offer  to  become  her  official,  authorised  servant, 
and  to  bear  a part,  though  a humble  part,  in  the  great 
work  of  reorganisation  which  was  now  to  be  attempted. 
Above  all  other  allurements  to  a retired  student,  unversed 
in  men,  and  ready  to  idealise  character,  was  the  oppor- 
tunity of  becoming  at  once  personally  acquainted  with  all 
the  great  men  of  the  patriotic  party,  whom  his  ardent 
imagination  had  invested  with  heroic  qualities.  The  very 
names  of  Fairfax,  Yane,  and  Cromwell,  called  up  in  him 
emotions  for  which  prose  was  an  inadequate  vehicle.  Itfor 
was  it  only  that  in  the  Council  itself  he  would  be  in  daily 
intercourse  with  such  men  as  Henry  Marten,  Hutchinson, 
Whitelocke,  Harrington,  St.  John,  Ludlow,  but  his  posi- 
tion would  introduce  him  at  once  to  all  the  members  of 
the  House  who  were  worth  knowing.  It  was  not  merely 
a new  world ; it  was  the  world  which  was  here  opened 
for  the  first  time  to  Milton.  And  we  must  remember  that, 
all  scholar  as  he  was,  Milton  was  well  convinced  of  the 
truth  that  there  are  other  sources  of  knowledge  besides 
books.  He  had  himself  spent  “ many  studious  and  contem- 
plative years  in  the  search  of  religious  and  civil  knowledge,’1 
yet  he  knew  that,  for  a mind  large  enough  to  “ take  in  a 
general  survey  of  humane  things,”  it  was  necessary  to  know— 

The  world,  . . . her  glory, 

Empires  and  monarchs,  and  their  radiant  courts, 

Best  school  of  best  experience, 

F.  R.  iii.  237* 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640-1669. 


He  had  repeatedly,  as  if  excusing  his  political  interludes, 
renewed  his  pledge  to  devote  all  his  powers  to  poetry  as 
soon  as  they  should  be  fully  ripe.  To  complete  his  edu- 
cation as  a poet,,  he  wanted  initiation  into  affairs.  Here 
was  an  opening  far  beyond  any  he  had  ever  dreamed  of. 
The  sacrifice  of  time  and  precious  eyesight  which  he  was 
to  make  was  costly,  but  it  was  not  pure  waste ; it  would 
be  partly  returned  to  him  in  a ripened  experience  in 


In  ail  things  that  to  greatest  actions  lead. 

He  accepted  the  post  at  once  without  hesitation.  On 
March  13,  1649,  the  Committee  for  Foreign  Affairs  was 
directed  to  make  the  offer  to  him;  on  March  15,  he 
attended  at  Whitehall  to  be  admitted  to  office.  A^elJ 
would  it  have  been  both  for  his  genius  and  his  fame  if 
he  had  declined  it.  His  genius  might  have  reverted  to 
its  proper  course,  while  he  was  in  the  flower  of  age,  with 
eyesight  still  available,  and  a spirit  exalted  by  the  triumph 
of  the  good  cause.  His  fame  would  have  been  saved 
from  the  degrading  incidents  of  the  contention  with  Sal- 
masius  and  Morns,  and  from  being  tarnished  by  the 
obloquy  of  the  faction  which  he  fought,  and  which 
conquered  him.  No  man  can  with  impunity  insult  and 
trample  upon  his  fellow-man,  even  in  the  best  of  causes. 
Especially  if  he  be  an  artist,  he  makes  it  impossible  to 
obtain  equitable  appreciation  of  his  work. 

So  far  as  Milton  reckoned  upon  a gain  in  experience 
I from  his  secretaryship,  he  doubtless  reaped  it.  Such  a 
probation  could  not  be  passed  without  solidifying  the 
judgment,  and  correcting  its  tendency  to  error.  And  this 
school  of  affairs,  which  is  indispensable  for  the  historian, 


may  also  be  available  for  the  poet.  Yet  it  would  be 
difficult  to  point  in  Milton's  subsequent  poetry  to  any 
element  which  the  poet  can  be  thought  to  have  imbibed 
from  the  foreign  secretary.  Where,  as  in  Milton's  two 
epics  and  Samson  Agonistes , the  personages  are  all 
supernatural  or  heroic,  there  is  no  room  for  the  employ- 
ment of  knowledge  of  the  world.  Had  Milton  written 
comedy,  like  Moliere,  he  might  have  said  with  Moliere 
after  he  had  been  introduced  at  court,  “Je  n'ai  plus 
que  faire  d'etudier  Plaute  et  Terence ; je  n'ai  qu'a 
etudier  le  monde.” 

The  office  into  which  Milton  was  now  inducted  is 
called  in  the  Council  books  that  of  " Secretary  for  foreign 
tongues."  Its  duties  were  chiefly  the  translation  of 
despatches  from,  and  to,  foreign  governments.  The 
degree  of  estimation  in  which  the  Latin  secretary  was 
held,  may  be  measured  by  the  amount  of  salary  assigned 
him.  For  while  the  English  chief  Secretary  had  a salary 
of  730Z.  (=  2200 1.  of  our  day),  the  Latin  Secretary  was 
paid  only  288Z.  13s.  6d.  (=  900Z.).  For  this,  not  very 
liberal  pay,  he  was  told  that  all  his  time  was  to  be  at  the 
disposal  of  the  government.  ^Lincoln's  Inn  Fields  was 
too  far  off  for  a servant  of  the  Council  who  might  have 
to  attend  meetings  at  seven  in  the  morning.  He  accord- 
ingly migrated  to  Charing  Cross,  now  become  again 
Charing  without  the  cross,  this  work  of  art  having  been 
an  early  (1647)  victim  of  religious  barbarism.  In  No- 
vember he  was  accommodated  with  chambers  in  White- 
hall. But  from  these  he  was  soon  ousted  by  claimants 
more  considerable  or  more  importunate,  and  in  1651  he 
removed  to  “ a pretty  garden-house  ” in  Petty  France, 
in  Westminster,  next  door  to  the  Lord  Scudamore's,  and 
opening  into  St.  James's  Park.  The  house  was  extant 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


till  1877,  when  it  disappeared,  the  last  of  Milton’s  many 
London  residences.  It  had  long  ceased  to  look  into  St. 
James’s  Park,  more  than  one  row  of  houses,  encroach- 
ments upon  the  public  park,  having  grown  up  between. 
The  garden-house  had  become  a mere  ordinary  street 
house  in  York-street,  only  distinguished  from  the 
squalid  houses  on  either  side  of  it  by  a tablet  affixed  by 
Bentham,  inscribed  “ sacred  to  Milton,  prince  of  poets.” 
Petty  France  lost  its  designation  in  the  French  Revo- 
lution, in  obedience  to  the  childish  petulance  which 
obliterates  the  name  of  any  one  who  may  displease  you 
at  the  moment,  and  became  one  of  the  seventeen  York- 
streets  of  the  metropolis.  Soon  after  the  re-baptism  of 
the  street,  Milton’s  house  was  occupied  by  William 
Hazlitt,  who  rented  it  of  Bentham.  Milton  had  lived  in 
it  for  nine  years,  from  1651  till  a few  weeks  before  the 
Restoration.  Its  nearness  to  Whitehall  where  the  Council 
sat,  was  less  a convenience  than  a necessity. 

For  Milton’s  life  now  became  one  of  close  attention, 
and  busy  service.  As  Latin  secretary,  and  Weckherlin’s 
successor,  indeed,  his  proper  duties  were  only  those  of  a 
clerk  or  translator.  But  his  aptitude  for  business  of  a 
literary  kind  soon  drew  on  him  a great  variety  of  employ- 
ment. The  demand  for  a Latin  translation  of  a despatch 
was  not  one  of  frequent  occurrence.  The  Letters  of 
the  Parliament,  and  of  Oliver  and  Richard,  Protectors, 
which  are,  intrusively,  printed  among  Milton’s  works,  are 
but  one  hundred  and  thirty-seven  in  all.  This  number  is 
spread  over  ten  years,  being  at  the  rate  of  about  fourteen 
per  year;  most  of  them  are  very  short.  For  the  purposes 
of  a biography  of  Milton,  it  is  sufficient  to  observe,  that 
the  dignified  attitude  which  the  Commonwealth  took  up 
towards  foreign  powers  lost  none  of  its  elevation  in  being 




conveyed  in  Miltonic  Latin.  Whether  satisfaction  for 
the  murder  of  an  envoy  is  to  be  extorted  from  the  arro- 
gant court  of  Madrid,  or  an  apology  is  to  be  offered  to  a 
humble  count  of  Oldenburg  for  delay  in  issuing  a salva- 
guardia  which  had  been  promised,  the  same  equable 
dignity  of  expression  is  maintained,  equally  remote  from 
crouching  before  the  strong,  and  hectoring  the  weak. 

His  translations  were  not  all  the  duties  of  the  new 
secretary.  He  must  often  serve  as  interpreter  at  audi- 
ences of  foreign  envoys.  He  must  superintend  the  semi- 
official organ,  the  Mercurius  Poiiticus . He  must  answer 
the  manifesto  of  the  Presbyterians  of  Ireland.  The  Ob- 
servations on  the  peace  of  Kilkenny  are  Milton’s  com- 
position, but  from  instructions.  By  the  peace  the  Irish 
had  obtained  home  rule  in  its  widest  extent,  release  from 
the  oath  of  supremacy,  and  the  right  to  tie  their  ploughs 
to  the  tail  of  the  horse.  The  same  peace  also  conceded 
to  them  the  militia,  a trust  which  Charles  I.  had  said  he 
would  not  devolve  on  the  Parliament  of  England,  u not 
for  an  hour ! ” Milton  is  indignant  that  these  indulgences, 
which  had  been  refused  to  their  obedience,  should  have 
been  extorted  by  their  rebellion,  and  the  massacre  of 
“ 200,000  Protestants.”  This  is  an  exaggeration  of  a 
butchery  sufficiently  tragic  in  its  real  proportions,  and  in 
a later  tract  ( Eikonoklastes ) he  reduces  it  to  154,000. 
Though  the  savage  Irish  are  barbarians,  uncivilised  and 
uncivilisable,  the  Observations  distinctly  affirm  the  new 
principle  of  toleration.  Though  popery  be  a supersti- 
tion, the  death  of  all  true  religion,  still  conscience  is  not 
within  the  cognisance  of  the  magistrate.  The  civil  sword 
is  to  be  employed  against  civil  offences  only.  In  adding 
that  the  one  exception  to  this  toleration  is  atheism,  Milton 
is  careful  to  state  this  limitation  as  being  the  toiera- 

iOO  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap, 

tion  professed  by  Parliament,  and  not  as  his  private 

So  well  satisfied  were  the  Council  with  their  secretary’s 
Observations  on  the  peace  of  Kilkenny,  that  they  next 
imposed  upon  him  a far  more  important  labour,  a reply  to 
the  Eikon  Basilike.  The  execution  of  Charles  I.  was  not 
an  act  of  vengeance,  but  a measure  of  public  safety.  If,  as 
Hallam  affirms,  there  mingled  in  the  motives  of  the  managers 
any  strain  of  personal  ill-will,  this  was  merged  in  the 
necessity  of  securing,  themselves  from  the  vengeance  of 
the  King,  and  what  they  had  gained  from  being  taken 
back.  They  were  alarmed  by  the  reaction  which  had  set 
in,  and  had  no  choice  but  to  strengthen  themselves  by  a 
daring  policy.  But  the  first  effect  of  the  removal  of  the 
King  by  violence  was  to  give  a powerful  stimulus  to  the 
reaction  already  in  progress.  The  groan  which  burst  from 
the  spectators  before  Whitehall  on  January  30,  1649, 
was  only  representative  of  the  thrill  of  horror  which  ran 
through  England  and  Scotland  in  the  next  ten  days. 
This  feeling  found  expression  in  a book  entitled  “ Eikon 
Basilike , the  portraiture  of  his  sacred  majesty  in  his 
solitude  and  sufferings.”  The  book  was,  it  should  seem, 
composed  by  Dr.  Gauden,  but  professed  to  be  an  authen- 
tic copy  of  papers  written  by  the  King.  It  is  possible 
that  Gauden  may  have  had  in  his  hands  some  written 
scraps  of  the  King’s  meditations.  If  he  had  such,  he 
only  used  them  as  hints  to  work  upon.  Gauden  was  a 
churchman  whom  his  friends  might  call  liberal,  and 
his  enemies  time-serving.  He  was  a churchman  of  the 
stamp  of  Archbishop  Williams,  and  preferred  bishops  and 
the  Common-prayer  to  presbyters  and  extempore  sermons, 
but  did  not  think  the  difference  between  the  two  of  the 
essence  of  religion.  In  better  times  Gauden  would  have 




passed  for  broad,  though  his  latitudinarianism  was  more 
the  result  of  love  of  ease  than  of  philosophy.  Though  a 
royalist  he  sat  in  the  Westminster  Assembly,  and  took 
the  covenant,  for  which  compliance  he  nearly  lost  the 
reward  which,  after  the  Restoration,  became  his  due. 
Like  the  university-bred  men  of  his  day,  Gauden  was 
not  a man  of  ideas,  but  of  style.  In  the  present  instance 
the  idea  was  supplied  by  events.  The  saint  and  martyr, 
the  man  of  sorrows,  praying  for  his  murderers,  the  King, 
who  renounced  an  earthly  kingdom  to  gain  a heavenly, 
and  who  in  return  for  his  benefits  received  from  an  un- 
thankful people  a crown  of  thorns — this  was  the  theme 
supplied  to  the  royalist  advocate.  Poet’s  imagination 
had  never  invented  one  more  calculated  to  touch  the 
popular  heart.  This  imitatio  Christi  to  which  every 
private  Christian  theoretically  aspires,  had  been  realised  by 
a true  prince  upon  an  actual  scaffold  with  a graceful 
dignity  of  demeanour,  of  which  it  may  be  said,  that 
nothing  in  life  became  him  like  the  leaving  it. 

This  moving  situation  Gauden,  no  mean  stylist,  set  out 
in  the  best  academical  language  of  the  period.  Frigid 
and  artificial  it  may  read  now,  but  the  passion  and  pity, 
which  is  not  in  the  book,  was  supplied  by  the  readers  of 
the  time.  And  men  are  not  dainty  as  to  phrase  when 
they  meet  with  an  expression  of  their  own  sentiments. 
The  readers  of  Eikon  Basilike — and  forty-seven  editions 
were  necessary  to  supply  the  demand  of  a population  of 
eight  millions — attributed  to  the  pages  of  the  book  emo- 
tions raised  in  themselves  by  the  tragic  catastrophe. 
They  never  doubted  that  the  meditations  were  those  of 
the  royal  martyr,  and  held  the  book,  in  the  words  of 
Sir  Edward  Nicholas,  for  “ the  most  exquisite,  pious,  and 
princely  piece  ever  written.”  The  Parliament  thought 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


themselves  called  upon  to  put  forth  a reply.  If  one  book 
could  cause  such  a commotion  of  spirits,  another  book 
could  allay  it — the  ordinary  illusion  of  those  who  do  not 
consider  that  the  vogue  of  a printed  appeal  depends,  not 
on  the  contents  of  the  appeal,  but  on  a predisposition  of 
the  public  temper. 

Selden,  the  most  learned  man,  not  only  of  his  party, 
but  of  Englishmen,  was  first  thought  of,  but  the  task  was 
finally  assigned  to  the  Latin  Secretary.  Milton's  ready 
pen  completed  the  answer,  Eikonoklastes , a quarto  of  242 
pages,  before  October,  1649.  It  is,  like  all  answers, 
worthless  as  a book.  Eikonoklastes,  the  Image-breaker, 
takes  the  Image,  Eikon,  paragraph  by  paragraph,  turn- 
ing it  round,  and  asserting  the  negative.  To  the  Eoyalist 
view  of  the  points  in  dispute  Milton  opposes  the  Indepen- 
dent view.  A refutation,  which  follows  each  step  of  an 
adverse  book,  is  necessarily  devoid  of  originality.  But 
Milton  is  worse  than  tedious ; his  reply  is  in  a tone  of 
rude  railing  and  insolent  swagger,  which  would  have  been 
always  unbecoming,  but  which  at  this  moment  was  grossly 

Milton  must,  however,  be  acquitted  of  one  charge 
which  has  been  made  against  him,  viz.,  that  he  taunts  the 
king  with  his  familiarity  with  Shakespeare.  The  charge 
rests  on  a misunderstanding.  In  quoting  Richard  III.  in 
illustration  of  his  own  meaning,  Milton  says,  “ I shall  not 
instance  an  abstruse  author,  wherein  the  King  might  be 
less  conversant,  but  one  whom  we  well  know  was  the 
closet  companion  of  these  his  solitudes,  William  Shake- 
speare.” Though  not  an  overt  gibe,  there  certainly  lurks 
an  insinuation  to  Milton's  Puritan  readers,  to  whom 
stage  plays  were  an  abomination — an  unworthy  device 
of  rhetoric,  as  appealing  to  a superstition  in  others  which 




the  writer  himself  does  not  share.  In  Milton’s  contemp- 
tuous reference  to  Sidney’s  Arcadia  as  a vain  amatorious 
poem,  we  feel  that  the  finer  sense  of  the  author  of 
L1 Allegro  has  suffered  from  immersion  in  the  slough  of 
religious  and  political  faction. 

Gauden,  raking  up  material  from  all  quarters,  had 
inserted  in  his  compilation  a prayer  taken  from  the 
Arcadia . Milton  mercilessly  works  this  topic  against 
his  adversary.  It  is  surprising  that  this  plagiarism  from 
so  well-known  a hook  as  the  Arcadia  should  not  have 
opened  Milton’s  eyes  to  the  unauthentic  character  of  the 
Eikon.  He  alludes,  indeed,  to  a suspicion  which  was 
abroad  that  one  of  the  royal  chaplains  was  a secret 
coadjutor.  But  he  knew  nothing  of  Gauden  at  the  time 
of  writing  the  Eikonoklastes,  and  probably  he  never  came 
to  know  anything.  The  secret  of  the  authorship  of  the 
Eikon  was  well  kept,  being  known  only  to  a very  few 
persons — the  two  royal  brothers,  Bishop  Morley,  the  Earl 
of  Bristol,  and  Clarendon.  These  were  all  safe  men,  and 
Gauden  was  not  likely  to  proclaim  himself  an  impostor. 
He  pleaded  his  authorship,  however,  as  a claim  to  prefer- 
ment at  the  Restoration,  when  the  church  spoils  came  to 
be  partitioned  among  the  conquerors,  and  he  received  the 
bishopric  of  Exeter.  A bishopric— because  less  than  the 
highest  preferment  could  not  be  offered  to  one  whose  pen 
had  done  such  signal  service ; and  Exeter — because  the 
poorest  see  (then  valued  at  500Z.  a year)  was  good  enough 
for  a man  who  had  taken  the  covenant  and  complied  with 
the  usurping  government.  By  ceaseless  importunity  the 
author  of  the  Eikon  Basilike  obtained  afterwards  the  see 
of  W orcester,  while  the  portion  of  the  author  of  Eikonch 
klastes  was  poverty,  infamy,  and  calumny.  A century 
after  Milton’s  death  it  was  safe  for  the  most  popular 

104  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [ch.  yin 

writer  of  the  day  to  say  that  the  prayer  from  the  Arcadia 
had  been  interpolated  in  the  Eikon  by  Milton  himself, 
and  then  by  him  charged  upon  the  King  as  a plagiarism. 
(J ohnson.  Lives  of  the  Poets.) 



The  mystery  which  long  surrounded  the  authorship  ol 
EiJcon  Basilike  lends  a literary  interest  to  Milton’s  share  in 
that  controversy,  which  does  not  belong  to  his  next  ap- 
pearance in  print.  Besides,  his  pamphlets  against  Salma- 
sius  and  Morus  are  written  in  Latin,  and  to  the  general 
reader  in  this  country  and  in  America  inaccessible  in 
consequence.  In  Milton’s  day  it  was  otherwise;  the 
widest  circle  of  readers  could  only  be  reached  through 
Latin.  For  this  reason,  when  Charles  II.  wanted  a 
public  vindication  of  his  father’s  memory,  it  was  indis- 
pensable that  it  should  be  composed  in  that  language. 
The  EiJcon  was  accordingly  turned  into  Latin,  by  one  of 
the  royal  chaplains,  Earle,  afterwards  Bishop  of  Salisbury. 
But  this  was  not  enough ; a defence  in  form  was  necessary, 
an  Apologia  Socratis , such  as  Plato  composed  for  his 
master  after  his  death.  It  must  not  only  be  written  in 
Latin,  but  in  such  Latin  as  to  ensure  its  being  read. 

In  1649  Charles  II.  was  living  at  the  Hague,  and  it  so 
happened  that  the  man,  who  was  in  the  highest  repute  in 
all  Europe  as  a Latinist,  was  professor  at  the  neighbouring 
university  of  Leyden.  Salmasius  (Claude  de  Saumaise) 

106  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

was  commissioned  to  prepare  a manifesto,  which  should  be 
at  once  a vindication  of  Charles’s  memory,  and  an  indict- 
ment against  the  regicide  government.  Salmasius  was  a 
man  of  enormous  reading  and  no  judgment.  He  says  of 
himself  that  he  wrote  Latin  more  easily  than  his  mother- 
tongue  (French).  And  his  Latin  was  all  the  more  read- 
able because  it  was  not  classical  or  idiomatic.  With  all 
his  reading — and  Isaac  Casaubon  had  said  of  him  when 
in  his  teens  that  he  had  incredible  erudition — he  was 
still,  at  sixty,  quite  unacquainted  with  public  affairs,  and 
had  neither  the  politician’s  tact  necessary  to  draw  a state 
paper  as  Clarendon  would  have  drawn  it,  nor  the  literary 
tact  which  had  enabled  Erasmus  to  command  the  ear  of 
the  public.  Salmasius  undertook  his  task  as  a profes- 
sional advocate,  though  without  pay,  and  Milton  accepted 
the  duty  of  replying  as  advocate  for  the  Parliament,  also 
without  reward ; he  was  fighting  for  a cause  which  was  not 
another’s  but  his  own. 

Salmasius’  Defensio  regia — that  was  the  title  of  his 
book — reached  this  country  before  the  end  of  1649.  The 
Council  of  State,  in  very  unnecessary  alarm,  issued  a pro- 
hibition. On  8th  January,  1650,  the  Council  ordered 
“ that  Mr.  Milton  do  prepare  something  in  answer  to  the 
book  of  Salmasius.”  Early  in  March,  1651,  Milton’s 
answer,  entitled  Pro  Populo  Anglicano  Defensio , was  out. 

Milton  was  as  much  above  Salmasius  in  mental  power 
as  he  was  inferior  to  him  in  extent  of  book  knowledge. 
But  the  conditions  of  retort  which  he  had  chosen  to 
accept  neutralised  this  superiority.  His  greater  power 
was  spent  in  a greater  force  of  invective.  Instead  of 
setting  out  the  case  of  the  Parliament  in  all  the  strength 
of  which  it  was  capable,  Milton  is  intent  upon  tripping 
up  Salmasius,  contradicting  him,  and  making  him  odious 




or  ridiculous.  He  called  his  book  a Defence  of  the  People 
of  England ; but  when  he  should  have  been  justifying 
his  clients  from  the  charges  of  rebellion  and  regicide 
before  the  bar  of  Europe,  Milton  is  bending  all  his  inven- 
tion upon  personalities.  He  exaggerates  the  foibles  of 
Salmasius,  his  vanity,  and  the  vanity  of  Madame  de 
Saumaise,  her  ascendancy  over  her  husband,  his  narrow 
pedantry,  his  ignorance  of  everything  but  grammar  and 
words.  He  exhausts  the  Latin  vocabulary  of  abuse  to 
pile  up  every  epithet  of  contumely  and  execration  on  the 
head  of  his  adversary.  It  but  amounts  to  calling  Salma- 
sius fool  and  knave  through  a couple  of  hundred  pages, 
till  the  exaggeration  of  the  style  defeats  the  orator's  pur- 
pose, and  we  end  by  regarding  the  whole,  not  as  a serious 
pleading,  but  as  an  epideictic  display.  Hobbes  said  truly 
that  the  two  books  were  “ like  two  declamations,  for  and 
against,  made  by  one  and  the  same  man  as  a rhetorical 
exercise  ” [Behemoth). 

Milton's  Defensio  was  not  calculated  to  advance  the 
cause  of  the  Parliament,  and  there  is  no  evidence  that  it 
produced  any  effect  upon  the  public,  beyond  that  of  rais- 
ing Milton's  personal  credit.  That  England,  and  Puritan 
England,  where  humane  studies  were  swamped  in  a bib- 
lical brawl,  should  produce  a man  who  could  write  Latin 
as  well  as  Salmasius,  was  a great  'surprise  to  the  learned 
world  in  Holland.  Salmasius  was  unpopular  at  Leyden, 
and  there  was  therefore  a predisposition  to  regard  Milton's 
book  with  favour.  Salmasius  was  twenty  years  older  than 
Milton,  and  in  these  literary  digladiations  readers  are 
always  ready  to  side  with  a new  writer.  The  contending 
interests  of  the  two  great  English  parties,  the  wider  issue 
between  republic  and  absolutism,  the  speculative  inquiry 
into  the  right  of  resistance,  were  lost  sight  of  by  the 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640— 166a 


spectators  of  this  literary  duel.  The  only  question  was 
whether  Salmasius  could  heat  the  new  champion,  or  the 
new  man  heat  Salmasius,  at  a match  of  vituperation. 

Salmasius  of  course  put  in  a rejoinder.  His  rapid  pen 
found  no  difficulty  in  turning  off  300  pages  of  fluent 
Latin.  It  was  his  last  occupation.  He  died  at  Spa, 
where  he  was  taking  the  waters,  in  September,  1653,  and 
his  reply  was  not  published  till  1660,  after  the  Kestoration, 
when  all  interest  had  died  out  of  the  controversy.  If  it 
be  true  that  the  work  was  written  at  Spa,  without  books 
at  hand,  it  is  certainly  a miraculous  effort  of  memory.  It 
does  no  credit  to  Salmasius.  He  had  raked  together,  after 
the  example  of  Scioppius  against  Scaliger,  all  the  tittle- 
tattle  which  the  English  exiles  had  to  retail  about  Milton 
and  his  antecedents.  Bramhall,  who  bore  Milton  a special 
grudge,  was  the  channel  of  some  of  this  scandal,  and 
BramhalTs  source  was  possibly  Chappell,  the  tutor  with 
whom  Milton  had  had  the  early  misunderstanding.  (See 
above  p.  6).  If  any  one  thinks  that  classical  studies  of 
themselves  cultivate  the  taste  and  the  sentiments,  let  him 
look  into  Salmasius’s  Responsio . There  he  will  see  the 
first  scholar  of  his  age  not  thinking  it  unbecoming  to  taunt 
Milton  with  his  blindness,  in  such  language  as  this  : “ a 
puppy,  once  my  pretty  little  man,  now  blear-eyed,  or 
rather  a blindling  ; having  never  had  any  mental  vision, 
he  has  now  lost  his  bodily  sight ; a silly  coxcomb,  fancy- 
ing himself  a beauty;  an  unclean  beast,  with  nothing 
more  human  about  him  than  his  guttering  eyelids;  the 
fittest  doom  for  him  would  be  to  hang  him  on  the  highest 
gallows,  and  set  his  head  on  the  Tower  of  London.”  These 
are  some  of  the  incivilities,  not  by  any  means  the  most 
revolting,  but  such  as  I dare  reproduce,  of  this  literary 




Salmasius’s  taunt  about  Milton’s  venal  pen  is  no  less 
false  than  his  other  gibes.  The  places  of  those  who 
served  the  Commonwealth,  were  places  of  “ hard  work  and 
short  rations.”  Milton  never  received  for  his  Defensio  a 
sixpence  beyond  his  official  salary.  It  has  indeed  been 
asserted  that  he  was  paid  1000Z.  for  it  by  order  of  Parlia- 
ment, and  this  falsehood  having  been  adopted  by  J ohnson 
— himself  a pensioner — has  passed  into  all  the  biographies, 
and  will  no  doubt  continue  to  be  repeated  to  the  end  of 
time.  This  is  a just  nemesis  upon  Milton,  who  on  his 
part  had  twitted  Salmasius  with  having  been  complimented 
by  the  exiled  King  with  a purse  of  100  Jacobuses  for  his 
performance.  The  one  insinuation  was  as  false  as  the 
other.  Charles  II.  was  too  poor  to  offer  more  than  thanks. 
Milton  was  too  proud  to  receive  for  defending  his  country 
what  the  Parliament  was  willing  to  pay.  Sir  Peter 
Wentworth,  of  Lillingston  Lovell,  in  Oxfordshire,  left  in 
his  will  100Z.  to  Milton  for  his  book  against  Salmasius. 
But  this  was  long  after  the  Restoration,  and  Milton  did 
not  live  to  receive  the  legacy. 

Instead  of  receiving  an  honorarium  for  his  Defence  of 
the  English  People , Milton  had  paid  for  it  a sacrifice  for 
which  money  could  not  compensate  him.  His  eyesight, 
though  quick,  as  he  was  a proficient  with  the  rapier,  had 
never  been  strong.  His  constant  headaches,  his  late 
study,  and  (thinks  Phillips)  his  perpetual  tampering  with 
physic  to  preserve  his  sight,  concurred  to  bring  the 
calamity  upon  him.  It  had  been  steadily  coming  on  for 
a dozen  years  before,  and  about  1650  the  sight  of  the  left 
eye  was  gone.  He  was  warned  by  his  doctor  that  if  he 
persisted  in  using  the  remaining  eye  Iot  book-work,  he 
would  lose  that  too.  64  The  choice  lay  before  me,”  Milton 
writes  in  the  Second  Defence,  “ between  dereliction  of  a 

110  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap, 

supreme  duty  and  loss  of  eyesight ; in  such  a case  I could 
not  listen  to  the  physician,  not  if  iEsculapius  himself  had 
spoken  from  his  sanctuary ; I could  not  but  obey  that 
inward  monitor,  I know  not  what,  that  spake  to  me  from 
heaven.  I considered  with  myself  that  many  had  pur- 
chased less  good  with  worse  ill,  as  they  who  give  their 
lives  to  reap  only  glory,  and  I thereupon  concluded  to 
employ  the’  little  remaining  eyesight  I was  to  enjoy  in 
doing  this,  the  greatest  service  to  the  common  weal  it  was 
in  my  power  to  render.” 

It  was  about  the  early  part  of  the  year  1652  that  the 
calamity  was  consummated.  At  the  age  of  forty-three  he 
was  in  total  darkness.  The  deprivation  of  sight,  one  of 
the  severest  afflictions  of  which  humanity  is  capable,  falls 
more  heavily  on  the  man  whose  occupation  lies  among 
books,  than  upon  others.  He  who  has  most  to  lose,  loses 
most.  To  most  persons  books  are  but  an  amusement,  an 
interlude  between  the  hours  of  serious  occupation.  The 
scholar  is  he  who  has  found  the  key  to  knowledge,  and 
knows  his  way  about  in  the  world  of  printed  books.  To 
find  this  key,  to  learn  the  map  of  this  country,  requires  a 
long  apprenticeship.  This  is  a point  few  men  can  hope  to 
reach  much  before  the  age  of  forty.  Milton  had  attained 
it  only  to  find  fruition  snatched  from  him.  He  had 
barely  time  to  spell  one  line  in  the  book  of  wisdom,  before, 
like  the  wizard’s  volume  in  romance,  it  was  hopelessly 
closed  against  him  for  ever.  Any  human  being  is  shut 
out  by  loss  of  sight  from  accustomed  pleasures,  the  scholar 
is  shut  out  from  knowledge.  Shut  out  at  forty-three, 
when  his  great  work  was  not  even  begun  ! He  consoles 
himself  with  the  fancy  that  in  his  pamphlet,  the  Defensio , 
he  had  done  a great  work  (< quanta  maxima  quivi)  for  his 
country.  This  poor  delusion  helped  him  doubtless  to 




support  his  calamity.  He  could  not  foresee  that,  in 
less  than  ten  years,  the  great  work  would  he  totally  anni- 
hilated, his  pamphlet  would  he  merged  in  the  obsolete 
mass  of  civil  war  tracts,  and  the  Defensio , on  which  he 
had  expended  his  last  year  of  eyesight,  only  mentioned 
because  it  had  been  written  by  the  author  of  Paradise 

The  nature  of  Milton’s  disease  is  not  ascertainable  from 
the  account  he  has  given  of  it.  In  the  well-known  passage 
of  Paradise  Lost , iii.  25,  he  hesitates  between  amaurosis 
(drop  serene)  and  cataract  (suffusion) 

So  thick  a drop  serene  hath  quench’d  their  orbs, 

Or  dim  suffusion  veil’d. 

A medical  friend  referred  to  by  Professor  Alfred  Stern, 
tells  him  that  some  of  the  symptoms  are  more  like 
glaucoma.  Milton  himself  has  left  such  an  account  as  a 
patient  ignorant  of  the  anatomy  of  the  organ  could  give. 
It  throws  no  light  on  the  nature  of  the  malady.  But  it  is 
characteristic  of  Milton  that  even  his  affliction  does  not 
destroyjds  solicitude  about  his  personal  appearance.  The 
taunts  of  his  enemies  about  “ the  lack-lustre  eye,  guttering 
with  prevalent  rheum  ” did  not  pass  unfelt.  In  his  Second 
Defence  Milton  informs  the  world  that  his  eyes  “ are  ex- 
ternally uninjured.  They  shine  with  an  unclouded  light, 
just  like  the  eyes  of  one  whose  vision  is  perfect.  This  is 
the  only  point  in  which  I am,  against  my  will,  a hypo- 
crite.” The  vindication  appears  again  in  Sonnet  xix. 
“ These  eyes,  though  clear  To  outward  view  of  blemish  or 
of  spot.”  In  later  years,  when  the  exordium  of  Book  iii.  of 
ParoAise  Lost  was  composed,  in  the  pathetic  story  of  his 
blindness,  this  little  touch  of  vanity  has  disappeared,  as 
incompatible  with  the  solemn  dignity  of  the  occasion. 



Civil  history  is  largely  a history  of  wars  between  states, 
and  literary  history  is  no  less  the  record  of  quarrels  in 
print  between  jealous  authors.  Poets  and  artists,  more 
susceptible  than  practical  men,  seem  to  live  a life  of  per- 
petual wrangle.  The  history  of  these  petty  feuds  is  not 
healthy  intellectual  food,  it  is  at  best  amusing  scandal. 
But  these  quarrels  of  authors  do  not  degrade  the  authors 
in  our  eyes,  they  only  show  them  to  be,  what  we 
knew,  as  vain,  irritable,  and  opinionative  as  other  men. 
Ben  Jonson,  Dry  den,  Pope,  Voltaire,  Rousseau,  belabour 
their  enemies,  and  we  see  nothing  incongruous  in  their 
doing  so.  It  is  not  so  when  the  awful  majesty  of  Milton 
descends  from  the  empyrean  throne  of  contemplation  to 
use  the  language  of  the  gutter  or  the  fish-market.  The 
bathos  is  unthinkable.  The  universal  intellect  of  Bacon 
shrank  to  the  paltry  pursuit  of  place.  The  disproportion 
between  the  intellectual  capaciousness  and  the  moral  aim 
jars  upon  the  sense  of  fitness,  and  the  name  of  Bacon, 
“wisest,  meanest,”  has  passed  into  a proverb.  Milton's  fall 
is  far  worse.  It  is  not  here  a union  of  grasp  of  mind  with  an 

CH.  X.] 



ignoble  ambition,  but  the  plunge  of  the  moral  nature  itself 
from  the  highest  heights  to  that  despicable  region  of 
vulgar  scurrility  and  libel,  which  is  below  the  level  of 
average  gentility  and  education.  The  name  of  Milton  is  a 
synonym  for  sublimity.  He  has  endowed  our  language 
with  the  loftiest  and  noblest  poetry  it  possesses,  and  the 
same  man  is  found  employing  speech  for  the  most  unworthy 
purpose  to  which  it  can  be  put,  that  of  defaming  and 
vilifying  a personal  enemy,  and  an  enemy  so  mean  that 
barely  to  have  been  mentioned  by  Milton  had  been  an 
honour  to  him.  In  Salmasius,  Milton  had  at  least  been 
measuring  his  Latin  against  the  Latin  of  the  first  classicist 
of  the  age.  In  Alexander  Morus  he  wreaked  august 
periods  of  Roman  eloquence  upon  a vagabond  preacher,  of 
chance  fortunes  and  tarnished  reputation,  a grceculus 
esuriens , who  appeared  against  Milton  by  the  turn  of 
accidents,  and  not  as  the  representative  of  the  opposite 
principle.  In  crushing  Morus,  Milton  could  not  beguile 
himself  with  the  idea  that  he  was  serving  a cause. 

In  1652  our  country  began  to  reap  the  fruits  of  the 
costly  efforts  it  had  made  to  obtain  good  government.  A 
central  authority  was  at  last  established,  stronger  than 
any  which  had  existed  since  Elisabeth,  and  one  which 
extended  over  Scotland  and  Ireland,  no  less  than  over 
England.  The  ecclesiastical  and  dynastic  aims  of  the 
Stuart  monarchy  had  been  replaced  by  a national  policy, 
in  which  the  interests  of  the  people  of  Great  Britain  sprang 
to  the  first  place.  The  immediate  consequence  of  this 
union  of  vigour  and  patriotism,  in  the  government,  was  the 
self-assertion  of  England  as  a commercial,  and  therefore 
as  a naval  power.  This  awakened  spirit  of  conscious 
strength  meant  war  with  the  Dutch,  who  while  England 
was  pursuing  ecclesiastical  ends,  had  possessed  themselves 



SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


of  the  trade  of  the  world.  War  accordingly  broke  out 
early  in  1652.  Even  before  it  came  to  real  fighting,  the 
war  of  pamphlets  had  recommenced.  The  prohibition  of 
Salmasius’  Defensio  regia  annulled  itself  as  a matter  of 
course,  and  Salmasius  was  free  to  prepare  a second 
Defensio  in  answer  to  Milton.  For  the  most  vulnerable 
point  of  the  new  English  Commonwealth,  was  through  the 
odium  excited  on  the  continent  against  regicide.  And 
the  quarter  from  which  the  monarchical  pamphlets  were 
hurled  against  the  English  republic,  was  the  press  of  the 
republic  of  the  United  Provinces,  the  country  which  had 
set  the  first  example  of  successful  rebellion  against  its  law- 
ful prince. 

Before  Salmasius’  reply  was  ready,  there  was  launched 
from  the  Hague,  in  March,  1652,  a virulent  royalist 
piece  in  Latin,  under  the  title  of  Regii  sanguinis  clamor 
ad  coelum  (Cry  of  the  King’s  blood  to  Heaven  against  the 
English  parricides).  Its  160  pages  contained  the  usual 
royalist  invective  in  a rather  common  style  of  hyperbolical 
declamation,  such  as  that  “ in  comparison  of  the  execution 
of  Charles  I.,  the  guilt  of  the  Jews  in  crucifying  Christ 
was  as  nothing.”  Exaggerated  praises  of  Salmasius  were 
followed  by  scurrilous  and  rabid  abuse  of  Milton.  In  the 
style  of  the  most  shameless  Jesuit  lampoon,  the  Amphi- 
theatrum  or  the  Scaliger  hypobolimceus , and  with  Jesuit 
tactics,  every  odious  crime  is  imputed  to  the  object  of 
the  satire,  without  regard  to  truth  or  probability.  Exiles 
are  proverbially  credulous,  and  it  is  likely  enough  that 
the  gossip  of  the  English  refugees  at  the  Hague  was  much 
employed  in  improving  or  inventing  stories  about  the 
man,  who  had  dared  to  answer  the  royalist  champion  in 
Latin  as  good  as  his  own.  Salmasius  in  his  Defensio  had 
employed  these  stories,  distorting  the  events  of  Milton’s 




life  to  discredit  him.  But  for  the  author  of  the  Clamor 
there  was  no  such  excuse,  for  the  hook  was  composed  in 
England,  by  an  author  living  in  Oxford  and  London,  who 
had  every  opportunity  for  informing  himself  accurately 
of  the  facts  about  Milton’s  life  and  conversation.  He 
chose  rather  to  heap  up  at  random  the  traditional  vocabu- 
lary of  defamation,  which  the  Catholic  theologians  had 
employed  for  some  generations  past,  as  their  best  weapon 
against  their  adversaries.  In  these  infamous  productions, 
hatched  by  celibate  pedants  in  the  foul  atmosphere  of  the 
Jesuit  colleges,  the  gamut  of  charges  always  ranges  from 
bad  grammar  to  unnatural  crime.  The  only  circumstance 
which  can  be  alleged  in  mitigation  of  the  excesses  of  the 
Regii  sanguinis  clamor  is  that  Milton  had  provoked  the 
onfall  by  his  own  violence.  He  who  throws  dirt  must 
expect  that  dirt  will  be  thrown  back  at  him,  and  when  it 
comes  to  mud-throwing,  the  blackguard  has,  as  it  is  right 
that  he  should  have,  the  best  of  it. 

The  author  of  the  Clamor  was  Peter  Du  Moulin,  a son 
of  the  celebrated  French  Calvinist  preacher  of  the  same 
name.  The  author  not  daring  to  entrust  his  pamphlet  to 
an  English  press,  had  sent  it  over  to  Holland,  where  it 
was  printed  under  the  supervision  of  Alexander  Morns. 
This  Morns  (More  or  Moir)  was  of  Scottish  parentage,  but 
born  (1616)  at  Castres,  where  his  father  was  principal  of 
the  Protestant  college.  Morus  fitted  the  Clamor  with  a 
preface,  in  which  Milton  was  further  reviled,  and  styled  a 
“ monstrum  horrendum,  informe,  ingens,  cui  lumen 
ademtum.”  The  secret  of  the  authorship  was  strictly 
kept,  and  Morus  having  been  known  to  be  concerned  in 
the  publication,  was  soon  transformed  in  public  belief  into 
the  author.  So  it  was  reported  to  Milton,  and  so  Milton 
believed.  He  nursed  his  wrath,  and  took  two  years  to 


SECOND  PERIOD,  1640—1660. 


meditate  his  blow.  He  caused  inquiries  to  be  made  into 
Morus’s  antecedents.  It  happened  that  Morus’s  conduct 
had  been  wanting  in  discretion,  especially  in  his  relations 
with  women.  He  had  been  equally  imprudent  in  his 
utterances  on  some  of  the  certainties  of  Calvinistic  divinity. 
It  was  easy  to  collect  any  amount  of  evidence  under  both 
these  heads.  The  system  of  kirk  discipline  offered  a 
ready-made  machinery  of  espionage  and  delation.  The 
standing  jest  of  the  fifteenth  century  on  the  “governante  ” 
of  the  cure  was  replaced,  in  Calvinistic  countries,  by  the 
anxiety  of  every  minister  to  detect  his  brother  minister  in 
any  intimacy  upon  which  a scandalous  construction  could 
be  put. 

Morns  endeavoured,  through  every  channel  at  his  com- 
mand, to  convince  Milton  that  he  was  not  the  author  of 
the  Clamor.  He  could  have  saved  himself  by  revealing 
the  real  author,  who  was  lurking  all  the  while  close  to 
Milton’s  elbow,  and  whose  safety  depended  on  Moms’ 
silence.  This  high-minded  respect  for  another’s  secret  is 
more  to  Morns’  honour,  than  any  of  the  petty  gossip  about 
him  is  to  his  discredit.  He  had  nothing  to  offer,  there- 
fore, but  negative  assurances,  and  mere  denial  weighed 
nothing  with  Milton,  who  was  fully  convinced  that  Morus 
lied  from  terror.  Milton’s  Defensio  Secunda  came  out  in 
May,  1654.  In  this  piece  (written  in  Latin)  Morus  is 
throughout  assumed  to  be  the  author  of  the  Clamor , and 
as  such  is  pursued  through  many  pages  in  a strain  of 
invective,  in  which  banter  is  mingled  with  ferocity.  The 
Hague  tittle-tattle  about  Morus’s  love-affairs  is  set  forth 
in  the  pomp  of  Milton’s  loftiest  Latin.  Sonorous  periods 
could  hardly  be  more  disproportioned  to  their  material 
content.  To  have  kissed  a girl  is  painted  as  the  blackest 
of  crimes.  The  sublime  and  the  ridiculous  are  here 




blended  without  the  step  between.  Milton  descends  even 
to  abuse  the  publisher,  Ylac,  who  had  officially  signed  hia 
name  to  Morus’s  preface.  The  mixture  of  fanatical  choler 
and  grotesque  jocularity,  in  which  he  rolls  forth  his 
charges  of  incontinence  against  Morus,  and  of  petty 
knavery  against  Ylac,  is  only  saved  from  being  unseemly 
by  being  ridiculous.  The  comedy  is  complete  when  we 
remember  that  Morus  had  not  written  the  Clamor , nor 
Ylac  the  preface.  Milton’s  rage  blinded  him ; he  is  mad 
Ajax  castigating  innocent  sheep  instead  of  Achaeans, 

The  Latin  pamphlets  are  indispensable  to  a knowledge 
of  Milton’s  disposition.  We  see  in  them  his  grand  dis- 
dain of  his  opponents,  reproducing  the  concentrated  in- 
tellectual scorn  of  the  Latin  Per3ius ; his  certainty  of  the 
absolute  justice  of  his  own  cause,  and  the  purity  of  his  own 
motives.  This  lofty  cast  of  thought  is  combined  with  an 
eagerness  to  answer  the  meanest  taunts.  The  intense  sub- 
jectivity of  the  poet  breaks  out  in  these  paragraphs,  and 
while  he  should  be  stating  the  case  of  the  republic,  he  holds 
Europe  listening  to  an  account  of  himself,  his  accomplish- 
ments, his  studies  and  travels,  his  stature,  the  colour  of  his 
eyes,  his  skill  in  fencing,  &c.  These  egoistic  utterances 
must  have  seemed  to  Milton’s  contemporaries  to  be  intru- 
sive and  irrelevant  vanity.  Paradise  Lost  was  not  as  yet, 
and  to  the  Council  of  State  Milton  was,  what  he  was 
to  Whitelocke,  aa  blind  man  who  wrote  Latin.”  But 
these  paragraphs,  in  which  he  talks  of  himself,  are  to  us 
the  only  living  fragments  out  of  many  hundred  worthless 

To  the  Defensio  Secunda  there  was  of  course  a reply 
by  Morus.  It  was  entitled  Fides  Publica , because  it 
was  largely  composed  of  testimonials  to  character.  When 
one  priest  charges  another  with  unchastity,  the  world 

118  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [ch.  x 

looks  on  and  laughs.  But  it  is  no  laughing  matter  to 
the  defendant  in  such  an  action.  He  can  always  bring 
exculpatory  evidence,  and  in  spite  of  any  evidence  he  is 
always  believed  to  he  guilty.  The  effect  of  Milton’s 
furious  denunciation  of  Moms  had  been  to  damage  his 
credit  in  religious  circles,  and  to  make  mothers  of  families 
shy  of  allowing  him  to  visit  at  their  houses. 

Milton  might  have  been  content  with  a victory  which, 
as  Gibbon  said  of  his  own,  “over  such  an  antagonist 
was  a sufficient  humiliation.”  Milton’s  magnanimity  was 
no  match  for  his  irritation.  He  published  a rejoinder 
to  Morus’s  Fides  Publica , reiterating  his  belief  that  Morus 
was  author  of  the  Clamor , but  that  it  wTas  no  matter 
whether  he  was  or  not,  since  by  publishing  the  book, 
and  furnishing  it  with  a recommendatory  preface,  he  had 
made  it  his  own.  The  charges  against  Morus’  character 
he  reiterated,  and  strengthened  by  new  “ facts,”  which 
Morus’s  enemies  had  hastened  to  contribute  to  the  budget 
of  calumny.  These  imputations  on  character,  mixed  with 
insinuations  of  unorthodoxy,  such  as  are  ever  rife  in 
clerical  controversy,  Milton  invests  with  the  moral  indig- 
nation of  a prophet  denouncing  the  enemies  of  Jehovah. 
He  expends  a wealth  of  vituperative  Latin  which  makes 
us  tremble,  till  we  remember  that  it  is  put  in  motion  to 
crush  an  insect. 

This  Pro  se  defensio  (Defence  for  himself),  appeared  in 
August,  1655.  Morus  met  it  by  a supplementary  Fides 
Publica , and  Milton,  resolved  to  have  the  last  word,  met 
him  by  a Supplement  to  the  Defence.  The  reader  will  be 
glad  to  hear  that  this  is  the  end  of  the  Morus  controversy. 
We  leave  Milton’s  victim  buried  under  the  mountains  of 
opprobrious  Latin  here  heaped  upon  him — this  “ circum- 
foraneus  pharmacopola,  vanissimus  circulator,  propudi- 
um  hominis  et  prostibulum.” 



It  is  no  part  of  Milton’s  biography  to  relate  the  course  of 
public  events  in  these  momentous  years,  merely  because 
as  Latin  secretary  he  formulated  the  despatches  of  the 
Protector  or  of  his  Council,  and  because  these  Latin 
letters  are  incorporated  in  Milton’s  works.  On  the 
course  of  affairs  Milton’s  voice  had  no  influence,  as  he 
had  no  part  in  their  transaction.  Milton  was  the  last 
man  of  whom  a practical  politician  would  have  sought 
advice.  He  knew  nothing  of  the  temper  of  the  nation, 
and  treated  all  that  opposed  his  own  view  with  supreme 
disdain.  On  the  other  hand,  idealist  though  he  was,  he 
does  not  move  in  the  sphere  of  speculative  politics,  or 
count  among  those  philosophic  names,  a few  in  each 
century,  who  have  influenced,  not  action  but  thought. 
Accordingly  his  opinions  have  for  us  a purely  personal 
interest.  They  are  part  of  the  character  of  the  poet 
Milton,  and  do  not  belong  to  either  world,  of  action  or 
of  mind. 

The  course  of  his  political  convictions  up  to  1654  has 
been  traced  in  our  narrative  thus  far.  His  breeding  at 

120  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

home,  at  school,  at  college,  was  that  of  a member  of  the 
Established  Church,  but  of  the  Puritan  and  Calvinistic, 
not  of  the  Laudian  and  Arminian,  party  within  its  pale. 
By  1641,  we  find  that  his  Puritanism  has  developed 
into  Presbyterianism ; he  desires,  not  to  destroy  the 
Church,  hut  to  reform  it  by  abolishing  government  by 
bishops,  and  substituting  the  Scotch  or  Genevan  disci- 
pline. When  he  wrote  his  Reason  of  Church  Govern - 
ment  (1642),  he  is  still  a royalist;  not  in  the  cavalier 
sense  of  a person  attached  to  the  reigning  sovereign,  or 
the  Stuart  family,  hut  still  retaining  the  belief  of  his 
age  that  monarchy  in  the  abstract  had  somewhat  of  divine 
sanction.  Before  1649,  the  divine  right  of  monarchy, 
and  the  claim  of  Presbytery  to  be  scriptural,  have  yielded 
in  his  mind  to  a wider  conception  of  the  rights  of  the  man 
and  the  Christian.  To  use  the  party  names  of  the  time, 
Milton  the  Presbyterian  has  expanded  into  Milton  the 
Independent.  There  is  to  be  no  State  Church,  and  in- 
stead of  a monarchy  there  is  to  be  a commonwealth. 
Very  soon  the  situation  developes  the  important  question 
how  this  commonwealth  shall  be  administered — whether 
by  a representative  assembly,  or  by  a picked  council,  or 
a single  governor.  This  question  was  put  to  a test  in  the 
Parliament  of  1654.  The  experiment  of  a representative 
assembly,  begun  in  September  1654,  broke  down  in 
January  1655.  Before  it  was  tried  we  find  Milton  in  his 
Second  Defence , in  May  1654,  recommending  Cromwell  to 
govern  not  by  a Parliament,  but  by  a council  of  officers  ; 
i.  e.  he  is  a commonwealth’s  man.  Arrived  at  this  point, 
would  Milton  take  his  stand  upon  doctrinaire  repub- 
licanism, and  lose  sight  of  liberty  in  the  attempt  to 
secure  equality,  as  his  friends  Yane,  Overton,  Bradshaw 
would  have  done  ? Or  would  his  idealist  exaltation  sweep 


him  on  into  some  one  of  the  current  fanaticisms,  Leveller, 
Fifth  Monarchy,  or  Muggletonian  1 Unpractical  as  he 
was,  he  was  close  enough  to  State  affairs  as  Latin  Secre- 
tary, to  see  that  personal  government  by  the  Protector 
was,  at  the  moment,  the  only  solution.  If  the  liberties 
that  had  been  conquered  by  the  sword  were  to  be  main- 
tained, between  levelling  chaos  on  the  one  hand,  and 
royalist  reaction  on  the  other,  it  was  the  Protector  alone 
to  whom  those  who  prized  liberty  above  party  names 
could  look.  Accordingly  Milton  may  be  regarded  from 
the  year  1654  onwards  as  an  Oliverian,  though  with 
particular  reservations.  He  saw— it  was  impossible  for 
a man  in  his  situation  not  to  see— -the  unavoidable 
necessity  which  forced  Cromwell,  at  this  moment,  to 
undertake  to  govern  without  a representative  assembly. 
The  political  necessity  of  the  situation  was  absolute,  and 
all  reasonable  men  who  were  embarked  in  the  cause  felt 
it  to  be  so. 

Through  all  these  stages  Milton  passed  in  the  space  of 
twenty  years— Church-Puritan,  Presbyterian,  Eoyalist, 
Independent,  Commonwealth’s  man,  Oliverian.  These 
political  phases  were  not  the  acquiescence  of  a placeman, 
or  indifferentist,  in  mutations  for  which  he  does  not  care ; 
still  less  were  they  changes  either  of  party  or  of  opinion. 
Whatever  he  thought,  Milton  thought  and  felt  intensely, 
and  expressed  emphatically ; and  even  his  enemies  could 
not  accuse  him  of  a shadow  of  inconsistency  or  wavering 
in  his  principles.  On  the  contrary,  tenacity,  or  persistence 
of  idea,  amounted  in  him  to  a serious  defect  of  character. 
A conviction  once  formed  dominated  him,  so  that,  as  in 
the  controversy  with  Morus,  he  could  not  be  persuaded 
that  he  had  made  a mistake.  Ho  mind,  the  history  of 
which  we  have  an  opportunity  of  intimately  studying, 

122  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

could  be  more  of  one  piece  and  texture  than  was  that  of 
Milton  from  youth  to  age.  The  names,  which  we  are 
obliged  to  give  to  his  successive  political  stages,  do  not 
indicate  shades  of  colour  adopted  from  the  prevailing 
political  ground,  but  the  genuine  development  of  the 
public  consciousness  of  Puritan  England  repeated  in  an 
individual.  Milton  moved  forward,  not  because  Cromwell 
and  the  rest  advanced,  but  with  Cromwell  and  the  rest. 
We  may  perhaps  describe  the  motive  force  as  a passionate 
attachment  to  personal  liberty,  liberty  of  thought  and 
action.  This  ideal  force  working  in  the  minds  of  a few, 
“ those  worthies  which  are  the  soul  of  that  enterprise  ” 
( Tenure  of  Kings),  had  been  the  mainspring  of  the  whole 
revolution.  The  Levellers,  Quakers,  Fifth  Monarchy  men, 
and  the  wilder  Anabaptist  sects,  only  showed  the  work- 
ings of  the  same  idea  in  men,  whose  intellects  had  not 
been  disciplined  by  education  or  experience.  The  idea  of 
liberty,  formulated  into  a doctrine,  and  bowed  down  to  as 
a holy  creed,  made  some  of  its  best  disciples,  such  as 
Harrison  and  Overton,  useless  at  the  most  critical  junc- 
ture. The  party  of  anti-Oliverian  republicans,  the  In- 
transigentes,  became  one  of  the  greatest  difficulties  of  the 
Government.  Milton,  with  his  idealism,  his  thorough- 
ness, and  obstinate  persistence,  was  not  unlikely  to  have 
shipwrecked  upon  the  same  rock.  He  was  saved  by  his 
constancy  to  the  principle  of  religious  liberty,  which  was 
found  with  the  party  that  had  destroyed  the  King 
because  he  would  not  be  ruled  by  a Parliament,  while  in 
1655  it  supported  the  Protector  in  governing  without  a 
Parliament.  Supreme  authority  in  itself  was  not  Crom- 
well's aim ; he  used  it  only  to  secure  the  fulfilment  of 
those  ideas  of  religious  liberty,  civil  order,  and  Protestant 
ascendancy  in  Europe,  which  filled  his  whole  soul.  To 




Milton,  as  to  Cromwell,  forms,  whether  of  worship  or 
government,  were  but  means  to  an  end,  and  were  to  he 
changed  whenever  expediency  might  require. 

In  1655,  then,  Milton  was  an  Oliverian,  but  with 
reservations.  The  most  important  of  these  reservations 
regarded  the  relation  of  the  state  to  the  church.  Crom- 
well never  wholly  dropped  the  scheme  of  a national 
church.  It  was,  indeed,  to  be  as  comprehensive  as  pos- 
sible ; Episcopacy  was  pulled  down,  Presbytery  was  not 
set  up,  but  individual  ministers  might  be  Episcopalian  or 
Presbyterian  in  sentiment,  provided  they  satisfied  a certain  / 
standard,  intelligible  enough  to  that  generation,  of  “ god-  j 
liness.”  Here  Milton  seems  to  have  remained  throughout 
upon  the  old  Independent  platform ; he  will  not  have 
the  civil  power  step  over  its  limits  into  the  province  of 
religion  at  all.  Many  matters,  in  which  the  old  prelatic 
church  had  usurped  upon  the  domain  of  the  state,  should 
be  replaced  under  the  secular  authority.  But  the  spiritual 
region  was  matter  of  conscience,  and  not  of  external 

A further  reservation  which  Milton  would  make  related 
to  endowments,  or  the  maintenance  of  ministers.  The/ 
Protectorate,  and  the  constitution  of  1657,  maintained  an 
established  clergy  in  the  enjoyment  of  tithes  or  othe| 
settled  stipends.  Nothing  was  more  abhorrent  to  Milton^ 
sentiment  than  state  payment  in  religious  things.  The 
minister  who  receives  such  pay  becomes  a state  pensioner, 
“a  hireling.”  The  law  of  tithes  is  a Jewish  law,  repealed 
by  the  Gospel,  under  which  the  minister  is  only  main- 
tained by  the  freewill  offerings  of  the  congregation  to 
which  he  ministers.  This  antipathy  to  hired  preachers 
was  one  of  Milton’s  earliest  convictions.  It  thrusts  itself, 
rather  importunately,  into  Lycidas  (1636),  and  reappears 

124  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap* 

in  the  Sonnet  to  Cromwell  (Sonnet  xv n.,  1652),  before  it  is 
dogmatically  expounded  in  the  pamphlet,  Considerations 
touching  means  to  remove  Hirelings  out  of  the  Church 
(1659).  Of  the  two  corruptions  of  the  church  by  the 
secular  power,  one  by  force,  the  other  by  pay,  Milton 
regards  the  last  as  the  most  dangerous.  “ Under  force, 
though  no  thank  to  the  forcers,  true  religion  ofttimes  best 
thrives  and  flourishes ; but  the  corruption  of  teachers, 
most  commonly  the  effect  of  hire,  is  the  very  bane  of 
truth  in  them  who  are  so  corrupted.”  Nor  can  we  tax 
this  aversion  to  a salaried  ministry,  with  being  a mono- 
mania of  sect.  It  is  essentially  involved  in  the  conception 
of  religion  as  a spiritual  state,  a state  of  grace.  A soul  in 
this  state  can  only  be  ministered  to  by  a brother  in  a like 
frame  of  mind.  To  assign  a place  with  a salary,  is  to  offer 
a pecuniary  inducement  to  simulate  this  qualification. 
This  principle  may  be  wrong,  but  it  is  not  unreasonable. 
It  is  the  very  principle  on  which  the  England  of  our  day 
has  decided  against  the  endowment  of  science.  The 
endowment  of  the  church  was  to  Milton  the  poison  oi 
religion,  and  in  so  thinking  he  was  but  true  to  his  con- 
ception of  religion.  Cromwell,  whatever  may  have  been 
his  speculative  opinions,  decided  in  favour  of  a state 
endowment,  upon  the  reasons,  or  some  of  them,  which 
have  moved  modern  statesmen  to  maintain  church  esta- 

With  whatever  reservations,  Milton  was  an  Oliverian. 
Supporting  the  Protector’s  policy,  he  admired  his  conduct, 
and  has  recorded  his  admiration  in  the  memorable  sonnet 
xn.  How  the  Protector  thought  of  Milton,  or  even 
that  he  knew  him  at  all,  there  remains  no  evidence. 
Napoleon  said  of  Corneille  that,  if  he  had  lived  in  his 
day,  h©  would  have  made  him  his  first  minister. 


Milton’s  ideas  were  not  such  as  could  have  value  in  the 
eyes  of  a practical  statesman.  Yet  Cromwell  was  not 
always  taking  advice,  or  discussing  business.  He,  who 
could  take  a liking  for  the  genuine  inwardness  of  the 
enthusiast  George  Fox,  might  have  been  expected  to 
appreciate  equal  unworldliness,  joined  with  culture  and 
reading,  in  Milton.  “ If,”  says  Heal,  “ there  was  a man 
in  England  who  excelled  in  any  faculty  or  science,  the 
Protector  would  find  him  out  and  reward  him.”  But  the 
excellence  which  the  Protector  prized  was  aptness  for 
public  employment,  and  this  was  the  very  quality  in 
which  Milton  was  deficient. 

The  poverty  of  Milton’s  state  letters  has  been  often 
remarked.  Whenever  weighty  negotiations  are  going  on, 
other  pens  than  his  are  employed.  We  may  ascribe  this 
to  his  blindness.  Milton  could  only  dictate,  and  there- 
fore everything  entrusted  to  him  must  pass  through  an 
amanuensis,  who  might  blab.  One  exception  to  the 
commonplace  character  of  the  state  papers  there  is.  The 
massacre  of  the  Vaudois  by  their  own  sovereign,  Charles 
Emanuel  II.,  Duke  of  Savoy,  excited  a thrill  of  horror  in 
England  greater  than  the  massacres  of  Scio  or  of  Batak 
roused  in  our  time.  For  in  Savoy  it  was  not  humanity 
only  that  was  outraged,  it  was  a deliberate  assault  of  the 
Papal  half  of  Europe  upon  an  outpost  of  the  Protestant 

One  effect  of  the  Puritan  revolution  had  been  to 
alter  entirely  the  foreign  policy  of  England.  By  nature, 
by  geographical  position,  by  commercial  occupations, 
and  the  free  spirit  of  the  natives,  these  islands  were 
marked  out  to  be  members  of  the  northern  confederacy 
of  progressive  and  emancipated  Europe.  The  foreign 
policy  of  Elisabeth  had  been  steady  adhesion  to  this 

126  SECOND  PERIOD,  1640—1660.  [chap 

law  of  nature.  The  two  first  Stuarts,  coquetting 
with  semi-catholieism  at  home,  had  leaned  with  all  the 
weight  of  the  crown  and  of  government  towards  catholic 
connexions.  The  country  had  always  offered  a vain  re- 
sistance ; the  Parliament  of  1621  had  been  dismissed  for 
advising  James  to  join  the  continental  protestants  against 
Spain.  It  was  certain,  therefore,  that  when  the  govern- 
ment became  Puritan,  its  foreign  policy  would  again 
become  that  of  Elisabeth.  This  must  have  been  the  case 
even  if  Cromwell  had  not  been  there.  He  saw  not  only 
that  England  must  be  a partner  in  the  general  protestant 
interest,  but  that  it  fell  to  England  to  make  the  com- 
bination and  to  lead  it.  He  acted  in  this  with  his  usual 
decision.  He  placed  England  in  her  natural  antagonism 
to  Spain ; he  made  peace  with  the  Dutch ; he  courted 
the  friendship  of  the  Swiss  Cantons,  and  the  alliance  of 
the  Scandinavian  and  German  Princes ; and  to  France, 
which  had  a divided  interest,  he  made  advantageous 
offers  provided  the  Cardinal  would  disconnect  himself 
from  the  ultramontane  party. 

It  was  in  April  1655,  that  the  Yaudois  atrocities 
suddenly  added  the  impulse  of  religious  sympathy  to  the 
permanent  gravitation  of  the  political  forces.  In  all 
catholic  countries  the  Jesuits  had  by  this  time  made 
themselves  masters  of  the  councils  of  the  princes.  The 
aim  of  Jesuit  policy  in  the  seventeenth  century  was  nothing 
less  than  the  entire  extirpation  of  protestantism  and  pro- 
testants in  the  countries  which  they  ruled.  The  in- 
habitants of  certain  Piedmontese  valleys  had  held  from 
time  immemorial,  and  long  before  Luther,  tenets  and 
forms  of  worship  very  like  those  to  which  the  German 
reformers  had  sought  to  bring  back  the  church.  The 
Yaudois  were  wretchedly  poor,  and  had  been  incessantly 


the  objects  of  aggression  and  persecution.  In  January 
1655,  a sudden  determination  was  taken  by  the  Turin 
government  to  make  them  conform  to  the  catholic  re- 
ligion by  force.  The  whole  of  the  inhabitants  of  three 
valleys  were  ordered  to  quit  the  country  within  three 
days,  under  pain  of  death  and  confiscation  of  goods,  unless 
they  would  become,  or  undertake  to  become,  catholic. 
They  sent  their  humble  remonstrances  to  the  court  of 
Turin  against  this  edict.  The  remonstrances  were  dis- 
regarded, and  military  execution  was  ordered.  On  April 
17,  1655,  the  soldiers,  recruits  from  all  countries — the 
Irish  are  specially  mentioned— were  let  loose  upon  the 
unarmed  population.  Murder  and  rape  and  burning 
are  the  ordinary  incidents  of  military  execution.  These 
were  not  enough  to  satisfy  the  ferocity  of  the  catholic 
soldiery,  who  revelled  for  many  days  in  the  infliction  of 
all  that  brutal  lust  or  savage  cruelty  can  suggest  to  men. 

It  was  nearly  a month  before  the  news  reached  Eng- 
land. A cry  of  horror  went  through  the  country,  and 
Cromwell  said  it  came  “as  near  his  heart  as  if  his  own 
nearest  and  dearest  had  been  concerned.”  A day  of  hu- 
miliation was  appointed,  large  collections  were  made  for 
the  sufferers,  and  a special  envoy  was  despatched  to  re- 
monstrate with  the  Duke  of  Savoy.  Cardinal  Mazarin, 
however,  seeing  the  importance  which  the  Lord  Protectoi 
would  acquire  by  taking  the  lead  on  this  occasion,  stepped 
in,  and  patched  up  a hasty  arrangement,  the  treaty  of 
Pignerol,  by  which  some  sort  of  fallacious  protection  was 
ostensibly  secured  to  the  survivors  of  the  massacre. 

All  the  despatches  in  this  business  were  composed  by 
Milton.  But  he  only  found  the  words  ; especially  in  the 
letter  to  the  Duke  of  Savoy,  the  tone  of  which  is  much 
more  moderate  than  we  should  have  expected,  consider- 

128  SECOND  PERIOD-  1640— 1660.  [chap. 

ing  that  Blake  was  in  the  Mediterranean,  and  master  oi 
the  coasts  of  the  Duke’s  dominions.  It  is  impossible  to 
extract  from  these  letters  any  characteristic  trait,  unless 
it  is  from  the  speech  which  the  envoy,  Morland,  was  in- 
structed to  deliver  at  Turin,  in  which  it  is  said  that  all 
the  Heros  of  all  ages  had  never  contrived  inhumanities 
so  atrocious,  as  what  had  taken  place  in  the  Vaudois 
valleys.  Thus  restricted  in  his  official  communications, 
Milton  gave  vent  to  his  personal  feelings  on  the  occasion 
in  the  well-known  sonnet  (xvm.)  “ Avenge,  0 Lord,  thy 
slaughtered  saints,  whose  hones  Lie  scattered  on  the  Alpine 
mountains  cold.” 

It  has  been  already  said  that  there  remains  no  trace  of 
any  personal  intercourse  between  Milton  and  Cromwell. 
He  seems  to  have  remained  equally  unknown  to,  or  un- 
regarded by,  the  other  leading  men  in  the  Government  or 
the  Council.  It  is  vain  to  conjecture  the  cause  of  this 
general  neglect.  Some  have  found  it  in  the  coldness 
with  which  Milton  regarded,  parts  at  least  of,  the  policy 
of  the  Protectorate.  Others  refer  it  to  the  haughty  nature 
of  the  man,  who  will  neither  ask  a favour,  nor  make  the 
first  advances  towards  intimacy.  This  last  supposition  is 
nearer  the  truth  than  the  former.  An  expression  he  uses 
in  a private  letter  may  he  cited  in  its  support.  Writing 
to  Peter  Heimbach  in  1657,  to  excuse  himself  from  giving 
him  a recommendation  to  the  English  ambassador  in 
Holland,  he  says : “I  am  sorry  that  I am  not  able  to  do 
this ; I have  very  little  acquaintance  with  those  in  power, 
inasmuch  as  I keep  very  much  to  my  own  house,  and 
prefer  to  do  so.”  Something  may  also  be  set  down  to 
the  character  of  the  Puritan  leaders,  alien  to  all  poetry, 
and  knowing  no  books  but  the  Bible. 

The  mental  isolation  in  which  the  great  poet  lived  his 




life,  is  a remarkable  feature  of  his  biography.  It  was  not 
only  after  the  Bestoration  that  he  appears  lonely  and 
friendless;  it  was  much  the  same  during  the  previous 
period  of  the  Parliament  and  the  Protectorate.  Just  at 
one  time,  about  1641,  we  hear  from  our  best  authority, 
Phillips,  of  his  cultivating  the  society  of  men  of  his  own 
age,  and  “ keeping  a gawdy-day,”  but  this  only  once  in 
three  weeks  or  a month,  with  u two  gentlemen  of  Gray’s 
Inn.”  He  had,  therefore,  known  what  it  was  to  be 
sociable.  But  the  general  tenour  of  his  life  was  other ; 
proud,  reserved,  self-contained,  repellent;  brooding  over 
his  own  ideas,  not  easily  admitting  into  his  mind  the 
ideas  of  others.  It  is  indeed  an  erroneous  estimate  of 
Milton  to  attribute  to  him  a hard  or  austere  nature.  He 
had  all  the  quick  sensibility  which  belongs  to  the  poetic 
temperament,  and  longed  to  be  loved  that  he  might  love 
again.  But  he  had  to  pay  the  penalty  of  aH  who  believe 
in  their  own  ideas,  in  that  their  ideas  come  between 
them  and  the  persons  that  approach  them,  and  constitute 
a mental  barrier  which  can  only  be  broken  down  by 
sympathy.  And  sympathy  for  ideas  is  hard  to  find,  just 
in  proportion  as  those  ideas  are  profound,  far-reaching, 
the  fruit  of  long  study  and  meditation.  Hence  it  was 
that  Milton  did  not  associate  readily  with  his  contem- 
poraries, but  was  affable  and  instructive  in  conversation 
with  young  persons,  and  those  who  would  approach  him 
in  the  attitude  of  disciples.  His  daughter  Deborah,  who 
could  tell  so  little  about  him,  remembered  that  he  was 
delightful  company,  the  life  of  a circle,  and  that  he  was 
so,  through  a flow  of  subjects,  and  an  unaffected  cheerful- 
ness and  civility.  I would  interpret  this  testimony,  the 
authenticity  of  which  is  indisputable,  of  his  demeanour 
with  the  young,  and  those  who  were  modest  enough  to 


130  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1600.  [chap. 

wait  upon  his  utterances.  His  isolation  from  his  coevals, 
and  from  those  who  offered  resistance,  was  the  necessary 
consequence  of  his  force  of  character,  and  the  moral 
tenacity  which  endured  no  encroachment  on  the  narrow 
scheme  of  thought,  over  which  it  was  incessantly  brood- 

Though,  as  Johnson  says,  “his  literature  was  immense,” 
there  was  no  humanity  in  it;  it  was  fitted  immovably 
into  a scholastic  frame- work.  Hence  it  was  no  bond  of 
sympathy  between  him  and  other  men.  We  find  him  in 
no  intimate  relation  with  any  of  the  contemporary  men  of 
learning,  poets,  or  wits.  From  such  of  them  as  were  of 
the  cavalier  party  he  was  estranged  by  politics.  That 
it  was  Milton’s  interposition  which  saved  Davenant’s 
life  in  1651,  even  were  the  story  better  authenticated 
than  it  is,  is  not  an  evidence  of  intimacy.  The  three 
men  most  eminent  for  learning  (in  the  usually  received 
sense  of  the  word)  in  England  at  that  day  were  Selden 
(d.  1654),  Gataker  (d.  1654),  and  Archbishop  Usher 
(d.  1656),  all  of  whom  were  to  be  found  in  London. 
With  none  of  the  three  is  there  any  trace  of  Milton  ever 
having  had  intercourse. 

It  is  probable,  but  not  certain,  that  it  was  at  Milton’s 
intercession  that  the  Council  proposed  to  subsidise  Brian 
Walton  in  his  great  enterprise — the  Polyglott  Bible. 
This,  the  noblest  monument  of  the  learning  of  the  Anglican 
Church,  was  projected  and  executed  by  the  silenced 
clergy.  Fifteen  years  of  spoliation  and  humiliation  thus 
bore  richer  fruit  of  learning  than  the  two  centuries  of 
wealth  and  honour  which  have  since  elapsed.  As  Brian 
Walton  had,  at  one  time,  been  curate  of  Allhallows, 
Bread  Street,  Milton  may  have  known  him,  and  it  has 
been  inferred  that  by  Twells’  expression — “ The  Council  of 




state,  before  whom  somef  having  relation  to  them , brought 
this  business  ” — Milton  is  meant. 

Not  with  John  Hales,  Cudworth,  Whichcote,  Nicholas 
Bernard,  Meric  Casaubon,  nor  with  any  of  the  men  of 
letters  who  were  churchmen,  do  we  find  Milton  in  corre- 
spondence. The  interest  of  religion  was  more  powerful 
than  the  interest  of  knowledge ; and  the  author  of  Eikono - 
klastes  must  have  been  held  in  special  abhorrence  by  the 
loyal  clergy.  The  general  sentiment  of  this  party  is  ex- 
pressed in  Hacket’s  tirade,  for  which  the  reader  is  referred 
to  his  Life  of  Archbishop  Williams. 

From  Presbyterians,  such  as  Theophilus  Gale  or  Baxter, 
Milton  was  equally  separated  by  party.  Of  Hobbes, 
Milton’s  widow  told  Aubrey  “that  he  was  not  of  his 
acquaintance  ; that  her  husband  did  not  like  him  at  all, 
but  would  acknowledge  him  to  be  a man  of  great  parts.” 

Owing  to  these  circumstances,  the  circle  of  Milton’s 
intimates  contains  few,  and  those  undistinguished  names. 
One  exception  there  was.  In  Andrew  Marvel  Milton 
found  one  congenial  spirit,  incorruptible  amid  poverty, 
unbowed  by  defeat.  Marvel  was  twelve  years  Milton’s 
junior,  and  a Cambridge  man  (Trinity),  like  himself.  He 
had  had  better  training  still,  having  been  for  two  years 
an  inmate  of  Nunappleton,  in  the  capacity  of  instructor 
to  Mary,  only  daughter  of  the  great  Lord  Fairfax.  In 
1652,  Milton  had  recommended  Marvel  for  the  appoint- 
ment of  assistant  secretary  to  himself,  now  that  he  was 
partially  disabled  by  his  blindness.  The  recommendation 
was  not  effectual  at  the  time,  another  man,  Philip  Mea- 
dows, obtaining  the  post.  It  was  not  till  1657,  when 
Meadows  was  sent  on  a mission  to  Denmark,  that  Marvel 
became  Milton’s  colleague.  He  remained  attached  to  him 
to  the  last.  It  were  to  be  wished  that  he  had  left  some 


SECOND  PEBIOD.  1640—1660. 


reminiscences  of  his  intercourse  with  the  poet  in  his  later 
years,  some  authentic  notice  of  him  in  his  prose  letters, 
instead  of  a copy  of  verses,  which  attest,  at  least,  his 
affectionate  admiration  for  Milton’s  great  epic,  though 
they  are  a poor  specimen  of  his  own  poetical  efforts. 

Of  Marchmont  Needham,  and  Samuel  Hartlib  mention 
has  been  already  made.  During  the  eight  years  of  his 
sojourn  in  the  house  in  Petty  France,  “ he  was  frequently 
visited  by  persons  of  quality,”  says  Phillips.  The  only 
name  he  gives  is  Lady  Kanelagh.  This  lady,  by  birth  a 
Boyle,  sister  of  Robert  Boyle,  had  placed  first  her  nephew, 
and  then  her  son,  under  Milton’s  tuition.  Of  an  excel- 
lent understanding,  and  liberally  cultivated,  she  sought 
Milton’s  society,  and  as  he  could  not  go  to  visit  her, 
she  went  to  him.  There  are  no  letters  of  Milton  addressed 
to  her,  but  he  mentions  her  once  as  “a  most  superior 
woman,”  and  when,  in  1656,  she  left  London  for  Ireland, 
he  “grieves  for  the  loss  of  the  one  acquaintance  which 
was  worth  to  him  all  the  rest.”  These  names,  with  that 
of  Dr.  Paget,  exhaust  the  scanty  list  of  Milton’s  intimates 
during  this  period. 

To  these  older  friends,  however,  must  be  added  his 
former  pupils,  now  become  men,  but  remaining  ever 
attached  to  their  old  tutor,  seeing  him  often  when  in 
London,  and  when  absent  corresponding  with  him.  With 
them  he  was  “affable  and  instructive  in  conversation.” 
Henry  Lawrence,  son  of  the  President  of  Oliver’s  Council, 
and  Cyriac  Skinner,  grandson  of  Chief  Justice  Coke,  were 
special  favourites.  With  these  he  would  sometimes  “ by 
the  fire  help  waste  a sullen  day and  it  was  these  two 
who  called  forth  from  him  the  only  utterances  of  this 
time  which  are  not  solemn,  serious,  or  sad.  Sonnet  xvi 
is  a poetical  invitation  to  Henry  Lawrence,  “ of  virtuous 




father  virtuous  son,”  to  a “ neat  repast,”  not  without  wine 
and  song,  to  cheer  the  winter  season.  Besides  these  two, 
whose  names  are  familiar  to  us  through  the  Sonnets,  there 
was  Lady  Ranelagh’s  son,  Richard  Jones,  who  went,  in 
1656,  to  Oxford,  attended  by  his  tutor,  the  German 
Heinrich  Oldenburg.  We  have  two  letters  (Latin) 
addressed  to  Jones  at  Oxford,  which  are  curious  as  show- 
ing that  Milton  was  as  dissatisfied  with  that  university 
even  after  the  reform,  with  Oliver  Chancellor,  and  Owen 
Vice-Chancellor,  as  he  had  been  with  Cambridge. 

His  two  nephews,  also  his  pupils,  must  have  ceased  at 
a very  early  period  to  be  acceptable  either  as  friends  or 
companions.  They  had  both — but  the  younger  brother, 
John,  more  decidedly  than  Edward — passed  into  the 
opposite  camp.  This  is  a result  of  the  uncle’s  strict  system 
of  Puritan  discipline,  which  will  surprise  no  one  who  has 
observed  that,  in  education,  mind  reacts  against  the  pres- 
sure of  will.  The  teacher  who  seeks  to  impose  his  views 
raises  antagonists,  and  not  disciples.  The  generation  of 
young  men  who  grew  up  under  the  Commonwealth  were 
in  intellectual  revolt  against  the  constraint  of  Puritanism, 
before  they  proceeded  to  political  revolution  against  its 
authority.  Long  before  the  reaction  embodied  itself  in 
the  political  fact  of  the  Restoration,  it  had  manifested 
itself  in  popular  literature.  The  theatres  were  still  closed 
by  the  police,  but  Davenant  found  a public  in  London  to 
applaud  an  “ entertainment  by  declamations  and  music, 
after  the  manner  of  the  ancients  ” (1656).  The  press 
began  timidly  to  venture  on  books  of  amusement,  in  a 
i style  of  humour  which  seemed  ribald  and  heathenish  to 
the  staid  and  sober  covenanter.  Something  of  the  jollity 
and  merriment  of  old  Elisabethan  days  seemed  to  be  in 
the  air.  But  with  a vast  difference.  Instead  of  “ dally- 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


mg  with  the  innocence  of  love/’  as  in  England's  Helicon 
(1600),  or  The  Passionate  Pilgrim , the  sentiment,  crushed 
and  maimed  by  unwise  repression,  found  a less  honest  and 
less  refined  expression.  The  strongest  and  most  universal 
of  human  passions  when  allowed  freedom,  light,  and  air, 
becomes  poetic  inspiration.  The  same  passion  coerced  by 
police  is  but  driven  underground. 

So  it  came  to  pass  that,  in  these  years,  the  Protector's 
Council  of  state  was  much  exercised  by  attempts  of  the 
London  press  to  supply  the  public,  weary  of  sermons, 
with  some  light  literature  of  the  class  now  (1879) 
known  as  facetious.  On  April  25,  1656,  the  august  body 
which  had  upon  its  hands  the  government  of  three  king- 
doms and  the  protection  of  the  protestant  interest  mili- 
tant throughout  Europe,  could  find  nothing  better  to  do 
than  to  take  into  consideration  a book  entitled  Sportive 
Wit , or  The  Muse's  Merriment . Sad  to  relate,  the  book 
was  found  to  contain  “much  lascivious  and  profane 
matter."  And  the  editor? — no  other  than  John  Phillips, 
Milton's  youngest  nephew  ! It  is  as  if  nature,  in  reassert- 
ing herself,  had  made  deliberate  selection  of  its  agent. 
The  pure  poet  of  Comus , the  man  who  had  publicly 
boasted  his  chastity,  had  trained  up  a pupil  to  become 
the  editor  of  an  immodest  drollery  ! Another  and  more 
original  production  of  John  Phillips,  the  Satyr  against 
Hypocrites , was  an  open  attack,  with  mixed  banter  and 
serious  indignation,  on  the  established  religion.  “It 
affords,"  says  Godwin,  “ unequivocal  indication  of  the 
company  now  kept  by  the  author  with  cavaliers,  and  bon 
vivanSy  and  demireps,  and  men  of  ruined  fortunes." 
Edward  Phillips,  the  elder  brother,  followed  suit  with  the 
Mysteries  of  Love  and  Eloquence  (1658),  a book,  accord- 
ing to  Godwin,  “ entitled  to  no  insignificant  rank  among 


the  multifarious  productions  issued  from  the  press,  to 
debauch  the  manners  of  the  nation,  and  to  bring  back  the 
King.”  Truly,  a man's  worst  vexations  come  to  him  from 
his  own  relations.  Milton  had  the  double  annoyance  of 
the  public  exposure  before  the  Council  of  State,  and  the 
private  reflection  on  the  failure  of  his  own  system  of 

The  homage  which  was  wanting  to  the  prophet  in  his 
own  country  was  more  liberally  tendered  by  foreigners. 
Milton,  it  must  be  remembered,  was  yet  only  known  in 
England  as  the  pamphleteer  of  strong  republican,  but 
somewhat  eccentric,  opinions.  On  the  continent  he  was 
the  answerer  of  Salmasius,  the  vindicator  of  liberty 
against  despotic  power.  “ Learned  foreigners  of  note," 
Phillips  tells  us,  “ could  not  part  out  of  this  city  without 
giving  a visit"  to  his  uncle.  Aubrey  even  exaggerates 
this  flocking  of  the  curious,  so  far  as  to  say  that  some 
came  over  into  England  only  to  see  Oliver  Protector  and 
John  Milton.  That  Milton  had  more  than  he  liked  of 
these  sightseers,  who  came  to  look  at  him  when  he  could 
not  see  them,  we  can  easily  believe.  Such  visitors  would 
of  course  be  from  protestant  countries.  Italians,  though 
admiring  his  elegant  Latin,  had  “ disliked  him  on  account 
of  his  too  severe  morals."  A glimpse,  and  no  more  than 
a glimpse,  of  the  impression  such  visitors  could  carry 
away,  we  obtain  in  a letter  written,  in  1651,  by  a Nurem- 
berg pastor,  Christoph  Arnold,  to  a friend  at  home  : — 
“ The  strenuous  defender  of  the  new  regime , Milton,  enters 
readily  into  conversation  ; his  speech  is  pure,  his  written 
style  very  pregnant.  He  has  committed  himself  to  a 
harsh,  not  to  say  unjust,  criticism  of  the  old  English 
divines,  and  of  their  Scripture  commentaries,  which  are 
truly  learned,  be  witness  the  genius  of  learning  himself ! 


SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660. 


It  must  not  be  supposed  from  this  that  Milton  had  dis- 
coursed with  Arnold  on  the  English  divines.  The  allusion 
is  to  that  onfall  upon  the  reformers,  Cranmer,  Latimer,  &c., 
which  had  escaped  from  Milton’s  pen  in  1642  to  the  great 
grief  of  his  friends.  If  the  information  of  a dissenting 
minister,  one  Thomas  Bradbury,  who  professed  to  derive 
it  from  Jeremiah  White,  one  of  Oliver’s  chaplains, 
may  be  trusted,  Milton  “ was  allowed  by  the  Parliament 
a weekly  table  for  the  entertainment  of  foreign  minis- 
ters and  persons  of  learning,  such  especially  as  came 
from  protestant  states,  which  allowance  was  also  con- 
tinued by  CromwelL” 

Such  homage,  though  it  may  be  a little  tiresome,  may 
have  gratified  for  the  moment  the  political  writer,  but  it 
would  not  satisfy  the  poet  who  was  dreaming  of  an 
immortality  of  far  other  fame— 

Two  equat’d  with  me  in  fate, 

So  were  I equat’d  with  them  in  renown. 

And  to  one  with  Milton’s  acute  sensibility,  yearning  for 
sympathy  and  love,  dependent,  through  his  calamity,  on 
the  eyes,  as  on  the  heart,  of  others,  his  domestic* interior 
was  of  more  consequence  than  outside  demonstrations 
of  respect.  Four  years  after  the  death  of  his  first 
wife  he  married  again.  We  know  nothing  more  of  this 
second  wife,  Catharine  Woodcock,  than  what  may  be 
gathered  from  the  Sonnet  xix.  in  which  he  comme- 
morated his  “ late  espoused  saint,”  in  whose  person  “ love, 
sweetness,  goodness  shin’d.”  After  only  fifteen  months 
union  she  died  (1658),  after  having  given  birth  to  a 
daughter,  who  lived  only  a few  months.  Milton  was 
again  alone. 

His  public  functions  as  Latin  Secretary  had  been  con- 




tracted  within  narrow  limits  by  his  blindness.  The 
heavier  part  of  the  duties  had  been  transferred  to  others, 
first  to  Weckherlin,  then  to  Philip  Meadows,  and  lastly 
to  Andrew  Marvel.  The  more  confidential  diplomacy 
Thurloe  reserved  for  his  own  cabinet.  But  Milton  con- 
tinued up  to  the  last  to  be  occasionally  called  upon  for  a 
Latin  epistle.  On  September  3,  1658,  passed  away  the  mas- 
ter-mind which  had  hitherto  compelled  the  jarring  elements 
in  the  nation  to  co-exist  together,  and  chaos  was  let  loose. 
Milton  retained  and  exercised  his  secretaryship  under 
Bichard  Protector,  and  even  under  the  restored  Parlia- 
ment. His  latest  Latin  letter  is  of  date  May  16,  1659. 
He  is  entirely  outside  all  the  combinations  and  complica- 
tions which  filled  the  latter  half  of  that  year,  after 
Richard’s  retirement  in  May.  It  is  little  use  writing  to 
foreign  potentates  now,  for,  with  one  man’s  life,  England 
has  fallen  from  her  lead  in  Europe,  and  is  gravitating 
towards  the  catholic  and  reactionary  powers,  France  or 
Spain.  Milton,  though  he  knows  nothing  more  than  one 
of  the  public,  “ only  what  it  appears  to  us  without  doors,” 
he  says,  will  yet  write  about  it.  The  habit  of  pam- 
phleteering was  on  him,  and  he  will  write  what  no  one 
will  care  to  read.  The  stiff-necked  commonwealth  men, 
with  their  doctrinaire  republicanism,  were  standing  out 
for  their  constitutional  ideas,  blind  to  the  fact  that  the 
royalists  were  all  the  while  undermining  the  ground 
beneath  the  feet  alike  of  Presbyterian  and  Independent, 
Parliament  and  army.  The  Greeks  of  Constantinople 
denouncing  the  Azymite,  when  Mohammed  II.  was  forming 
his  lines  round  the  doomed  city,  were  not  more  infatuated 
than  these  pedantic  commonwealth  men  with  their  parlia* 
mentarianism  when  Charles  II.  was  at  Calais, 

Hot  less  inopportune  than  the  public  men  of  the  party, 

188  SECOND  PERIOD.  1640—1660.  [chap. 

Milton  chooses  this  time  for  inculcating  his  views  on 
endowments.  A fury  of  utterance  was  upon  him,  and  he 
poured  out,  during  the  death-throes  of  the  republic,  pam- 
phlet upon  pamphlet,  as  fast  as  he  could  get  them  written 
to  his  dictation.  These  extemporised  effusions  betray  in 
their  style,  hurry  and  confusion,  the  restlessness  of  a 
coming  despair.  The  passionate  enthusiasm  of  the  early 
tracts  is  gone,  and  all  the  old  faults,  the  obscurity,  the 
inconsecutiveness,  the  want  of  arrangement,  are  ex- 
aggerated. In  the  Ready  Way  there  is  a monster  sen- 
tence of  thirty-nine  lines,  containing  336  words.  Though 
his  instincts  were  perturbed,  he  was  unaware  what  turn 
things  were  taking.  In  February  1660,  when  all  persons 
of  ordinary  information  saw  that  the  restoration  of 
monarchy  was  certain,  Milton  knew  it  not,  and  put  out  a 
tract  to  show  his  countrymen  a Ready  and  easy  way  to 
establish  a free  Commonwealth . With  the  same  perti- 
nacity with  which  he  had  adhered  to  his  own  assumption 
that  Morus  was  author  of  the  Clamor , he  now  refused  to 
believe  in  the  return  of  the  Stuarts.  Fast  as  his  pen 
moved,  events  outstripped  it,  and  he  has  to  rewrite  the 
Ready  and  easy  way  to  suit  their  march.  The  second 
edition  is  overtaken  by  the  Eestoration,  and  it  should 
seem  was  never  circulated.  Milton  will  ever  “give 
advice  to  Sylla,”  and  writes  a letter  of  admonition  to 
Monk,  which,  however,  never  reached  either  the  press  or 

The  month  of  May  1660,  put  a forced  end  to  his 
illusion.  Before  the  29th  of  that  month  he  had  fled  from 
the  house  in  Petty  France,  and  been  sheltered  by  a friend 
in  the  city.  In  this  friend's  house,  in  Bartholomew 
Close,  he  lay  concealed  till  the  passing  of  the  Act  of 
Oblivion,  29th  August.  Phillips  says  that  he  owed  his 


exemption  from  the  vengeance  which  overtook  so  many 
of  his  friends,  to  Andrew  Marvel,  “ who  acted  vigorously 
in  his  behalf,  and  made  a considerable  party  for  him.”  But 
in  adding  that  “ he  was  so  far  excepted  as  not  to  bear  any 
office  in  the  commonwealth,”  Phillips  is  in  error. 
Milton’s  name  does  not  occur  in  the  Act.  Pope  used  to 
tell  that  Davenant  had  employed  his  interest  to  protect  a 
brother-poet,  thus  returning  a similar  act  of  generosity 
done  to  himself  by  Milton  in  1650.  Pope  had  this  story 
from  Betterton  the  actor.  How  far  Davenant  exaggerated 
to  Betterton  his  own  influence  or  his  exertions,  we  cannot 
tell.  Another  account  assigns  the  credit  of  the  interven- 
tion to  Secretary  Morris  and  Sir  Thomas  Clarges.  After 
all,  it  is  probable  that  he  owed  his  immunity  to  his  insig- 
nificance and  his  harmlessness.  The  formality  of  burning 
two  of  his  books  by  the  hands  of  the  hangman  was  gone 
through.  He  was  also  for  some  time  during  the  autumn 
of  1660  in  the  custody  of  the  serjeant-at-arms,  for  on 
15th  December,  there  is  an  entry  in  the  Commons 
journals  ordering  his  discharge.  It  is  characteristic  of 
Milton  that,  even  in  this  moment  of  peril,  he  stood  up 
for  his  rights,  and  refused  to  pay  an  overcharge,  which  the 
official  thought  he  might  safely  exact  from  a rebel  and  a 

THIRD  PERIOD . 1660—1674. 



Revolutions  are  of  two  kinds ; they  are  either  progressive 
or  reactionary.  A revolution  of  progress  is  often  destruc- 
tive, sweeping  away  much  which  should  have  been  pre- 
served. But  such  a revolution  has  a regenerating  force  ; 
it  renews  the  youth  of  a nation,  and  gives  free  play  to  its 
vital  powers.  Lost  limbs  are  replaced  by  new.  A revolu- 
tion of  reaction,  on  the  other  hand,  is  a benumbing  influ- 
ence, paralysing  effort,  and  levelling  character.  In  such  a 
conservative  revolution  the  mean,  the  selfish,  and  the 
corrupt  come  to  the  top ; man  seeks  ease  and  enjoyment 
rather  than  duty ; virtue,  honour,  patriotism,  and  dis- 
interestedness disappear  altogether  from  a society  which 
has  ceased  to  believe  in  them. 

The  Restoration  of  1660  was  such  a revolution.  Com- 
plete and  instantaneous  inversion  of  the  position  of  the  two 
parties  in  the  nation,  it  occasioned  much  individual  hard- 
ship. But  this  was  only  the  fortune  of  war,  the  necessary 
consequence  of  party  ascendancy.  The  Restoration  was 
much  more  than  a triumph  of  the  party  of  the  royalists 
over  that  of  the  roundheads ; it  was  the  deathblow  to 

ch.  xii.]  EFFECTS  OF  THE  RESTORATION.  141 

national  aspiration,  to  all  those  aims  which  raise  man 
above  himself.  It  destroyed  and  trampled  under  foot 
his  ideal.  The  Restoration  was  a moral  catastrophe.  It 
was  not  that  there  wanted  good  men  among  the  church- 
men, men  as  pious  and  virtuous  as  the  Puritans  whom 
they  displaced.  But  the  royalists  came  hack  as  the  party 
of  reaction,  reaction  of  the  spirit  of  the  world  against 
asceticism,  of  self-indulgence  against  duty,  of  materialism 
against  idealism.  For  a time  virtue  was  a public  laugh- 
ing-stock, and  the  word  “ saint,”  the  highest  expression 
in  the  language  for  moral  perfection,  connoted  everything 
that  was  ridiculous.  I do  not  speak  of  the  gallantries  of 
Whitehall,  which  figure  so  prominently  in  the  histories  of 
the  reign.  Far  too  much  is  made  of  these,  when  they  are 
made  the  scapegoat  of  the  moralist.  The  style  of  court 
manners  was  a mere  incident  on  the  surface  of  social  life. 
The  national  life  was  more  profoundly  tainted  by  the 
discouragement  of  all  good  men,  which  penetrated  every 
shire  and  every  parish,  than  by  the  distant  reports  of  the 
loose  behaviour  of  Charles  II.  Servility,  meanness, 
venality,  time-serving,  and  a disbelief  in  virtue  diffused 
themselves  over  the  nation  like  a pestilential  miasma,  the 
depressing  influence  of  which  was  heavy,  even  upon  those 
souls  which  individually  resisted  the  poison.  The  heroic 
age  of  England  had  passed  away,  not  by  gradual  decay, 
by  imperceptible  degeneration,  but  in  a year,  in  a single 
day,  like  the  winter’s  snow  in  Greece.  It  is  for  the 
historian  to  describe,  and  unfold  the  sources  of  this  con- 
tagion. The  biographer  of  Milton  has  to  take  note  of  the 
political  change  only  as  it  affected  the  worldly  circum- 
stances of  the  man,  the  spiritual  environment  of  the 
poet,  and  the  springs  of  his  inspiration. 

The  consequences  of  the  Restoration  to  Milton’s  worldly 

142  THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674.  [chap. 

fortunes  were  disastrous.  As  a partisan  he  was  necessarily 
involved  in  the  ruin  of  his  party.  As  a matter  of  course 
he  lost  his  Latin  secretaryship.  There  is  a story  that  he 
was  offered  to  be  continued  in  it,  and  that  when  urged  to 
accept  the  offer  by  his  wife,  he  replied^  “ Thou  art  in  the 
right ; you,  as  other  women,  would  ride  in  your  coach ; for 
me,  my  aim  is  to  live  and  die  an  honest  man.”  This  tradi- 
tion, handed  on  by  Pope,  is  of  doubtful  authenticity.  It 
is  not  probable  that  the  man  who  had  printed  of  Charles  I. 
what  Milton  had  printed,  could  have  been  offered  office 
under  Charles  II.  Even  were  court  favour  to  be  pur- 
chased by  concessions,  Milton  was  not  the  man  to  make 
them,  or  to  belie  his  own  antecedents,  as  Marchmont 
Needham,  Dry  den,  and  so  many  others  did.  Our  wish 
for  Milton  is  that  he  should  have  placed  himself  from  the 
beginning  above  party.  But  he  had  chosen  to  be  the 
champion  of  a party,  and  he  loyally  accepted  the  conse- 
quences. He  escaped  with  life  and  liberty.  The  re- 
action, though  barbarous  in  its  treatment  of  its  victims, 
was  not  bloodthirsty.  Milton  was  already  punished  by 
the  loss  of  his  sight,  and  he  was  now  mulcted  in  three- 
fourths  of  his  small  fortune.  A sum  of  2000Z.  which 
he  had  placed  in  government  securities  was  lost,  the 
restored  monarchy  refusing  to  recognise  the  obligations 
of  the  protectorate,  He  lost  another  like  sum  by  mis- 
management, and  for  want  of  good  advice,  says  Phillips, 
or  according  to  his  granddaughter’s  statement,  by  the 
dishonesty  of  a money-scrivener.  He  had  also  to  give  up, 
without  compensation,  some  property,  valued  at  60Z.  a 
year,  which  he  had  purchased  when  the  estates  of  the 
Chapter  of  Westminster  were  sold.  In  the  great  fire, 
1666,  his  house  in  Bread-street  was  destroyed.  Thus, 
from  easy  circumstances,  he  was  reduced,  if  not  to  desti- 
tution, at  least  to  narrow  means.  He  left  at  his  death 


effects  of  the  restoration. 


1500/.,  which  Phillips  calls  a considerable  sum.  And  il 
he  sold  his  books,  one  by  one,  during  his  lifetime,  this 
was  because,  knowing  their  value,  he  thought  he  could 
dispose  of  them  to  greater  advantage  than  his  wife  would 
be  able  to  do. 

But  fai  outweighing  such  considerations  as  pecuniary 
ruin,  and  personal  discomfort,  was  the  shock  which  the 
moral  nature  felt  from  the  irretrievable  discomfiture  of  all 
the  hopes,  aims,  and  aspirations  which  had  hitherto  sus- 
tained and  nourished  his  soul.  In  a few  months  the 
labour  of  twenty  years  was  swept  away  without  a trace  of 
it  being  left.  It  was  not  merely  a political  defeat  of  his 
party,  it  was  the  total  wreck  of  the  principles,  of  the  social 
and  religious  ideal,  with  which  Milton’s  life  was  bound  up. 
Others,  whose  convictions  only  had  been  engaged  in  the 
cause,  could  hasten  to  accommodate  themselves  to  the  new 
era,  or  even  to  transfer  their  services  to  the  conqueror. 
But  such  flighty  allegiance  was  not  possible  for  Milton, 
who  had  embarked  in  the  Puritan  cause  not  only  intel- 
lectual convictions,  but  all  the  generosity  and  ardour  of 
his  passionate  nature.  “ I conceive  myself  to  be,”  he  had 
written  in  1642,  “ not  as  mine  own  person,  but  as  a mem- 
ber  incorporate  into  that  truth  whereof  I was  persuaded, 
and  whereof  I had  declared  myself  openly  to  be  the  par- 
taker.” It  was  now  in  the  moment  of  overthrow  that 
Milton  became  truly  great.  “ W andellos  im  ewigen  Ruin,” 
he  stood  alone,  and  became  the  party  himself.  He  took 
the  only  course  open  to  him,  turned  away  his  thoughts 
from  the  political  disaster,  and  directed  the  fierce  enthu- 
siasm which  burned  within,  upon  an  absorbing  poetic  task. 
His  outward  hopes  were  blasted,  and  he  returned  with 
concentrated  ardour  to  woo  the  muse,  from  whom  he  had 
so  long  truanted.  The  passion  which  seethes  beneath  the 
stately  march  of  the  verse  in  Paradise  Lost , is  not  the 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674, 


hopeless  moan  of  despair,  but  the  intensified  fanaticism 
which  defies  misfortune  to  make  it  “bate  one  jot  of  heart 
or  hope.”  The  grand  loneliness  of  Milton  after  1668,  “is 
reflected  in  his  three  great  poems  by  a sublime  indepen- 
dence of  human  sympathy,  like  that  with  which  mountains 
fascinate  and  rebuff  us  ” {Lowell). 

Late  then,  but  not  too  late,  Milton,  at  the  age  of  fifty- 
two,  fell  back  upon  the  rich  resources  of  his  own  mind,  upon 
poetical  composition,  and  the  study  of  good  books,  which 
he  always  asserted  to  be  necessary  to  nourish  and  sustain 
a poet’s  imagination.  Here  he  had  to  contend  with  the 
enormous  difficulty  of  blindness.  He  engaged  a kind  of 
attendant  to  read  to  him.  But  this  only  sufficed  for 
English  books — imperfectly  even  for  these— -and  the  greater 
part  of  the  choice,  not  extensive,  library  upon  which 
Milton  drew,  was  Hebrew,  Greek,  Latin,  and  the  modern 
languages  of  Europe.  In  a letter  to  Heimbach,  of  date 
1666,  he  complains  pathetically  of  the  misery  of  having 
to  spell  out,  letter  by  letter,  the  Latin  words  of  the  epistle, 
to  the  attendant  who  was  writing  to  his  dictation.  At 
last  he  fell  upon  the  plan  of  engaging  young  friends,  who 
occasionally  visited  him,  to  read  to  him  and  to  write  for 
him.  In  the  precious  volume  of  Milton  MSS.  preserved 
in  the  library  of  Trinity  College,  Cambridge,  six  different 
hands  have  been  distinguished.  Who  they  were  is  not 
always  known.  But  Phillips  tells  us  that,  “ he  had  daily 
about  him  one  or  other  to  read  to  him ; some  persons  of 
man’s  estate,  who  of  their  own  accord  greedily  catch’d  at 
the  opportunity  of  being  his  reader,  that  they  might  as 
well  reap  the  benefit  of  what  they  read  to  him,  as  oblige 
him  by  the  benefit  of  their  reading;  others  of  younger 
years  sent  by  their  parents  to  the  same  end.”  Edward 
Phillips  himself,  who  visited  his  uncle  to  the  last,  may 




have  been  among  the  number,  as  much  as  his  own  engage- 
ments as  tutor,  first  to  the  only  son  of  John  Evelyn,  then 
in  the  family  of  the  Earl  of  Pembroke,  and  finally  to  the 
Bennets,  Lord  Arlington’s  children,  would  permit  him. 
Others  of  these  casual  readers  were  Samuel  Barrow,  body 
physician  to  Charles  II.,  and  Cyriac  Skinner,  of  whom 
mention  has  been  already  made  (above,  p.  132). 

To  a blind  man,  left  with  three  little  girls,  of  whom  the 
youngest  was  only  eight  at  the  Restoration,  marriage 
seemed  equally  necessary  for  their  sake  as  for  his  own. 
Milton  consulted  his  judicious  friend  and  medical  adviser, 
Dr.  Paget,  who  recommended  to  him  Elizabeth  Minshull, 
of  a family  of  respectable  position  near  Nantwich,  in 
Cheshire.  She  was  some  distant  relation  of  Paget,  who 
must  have  felt  the  terrible  responsibility  of  undertaking  to 
recommend.  She  justified  his  selection.  The  marriage 
took  place  in  February  1663,  and  during  the  remaining 
eleven  years  of  his  life,  the  poet  was  surrounded  by  the 
thoughtful  attentions  of  an  active  and  capable  woman. 
There  is  but  scanty  evidence  as  to  what  she  was  like, 
either  in  person  or  character.  Aubrey,  who  knew  her, 
says  she  was  “a  gent.  (?  genteel)  person,  (of)  a peaceful 
and  agreeable  humour.”  Newton,  Bishop  of  Bristol,  who 
wrote  in  1749,  had  heard  that  she  was  “ a woman  of  a most 
violent  spirit,  and  a hard  mother-in-law  to  his  children.” 
It  is  certain  that  she  regarded  her  husband  with  great 
veneration,  and  studied  his  comfort.  Mary  Fisher,  a maid- 
servant in  the  house,  deposed  that  at  the  end  of  his  life, 
when  he  was  sick  and  infirm,  his  wife  having  provided 
something  for  dinner  she  thought  he  would  like,  he  “ spake 
to  his  said  wife  these  or  like  words,  as  near  as  this  de- 
ponent can  remember  : 4 God  have  mercy,  Betty,  I see 
thou  wilt  perform  according  to  thy  promise,  in  providing 



THIRD  PERIOD,  1660—1674. 


me  such  dishes  as  X think  fit  while  I live,  and  when  X die 
thou  knowest  X have  left  thee  all.’  ” There  is  no  evidence 
that  his  wife  rendered  him  literary  assistance.  Perhaps, 
as  she  looked  so  thoroughly  to  his  material  comfort,  her 
function  was  held,  by  tacit  agreement,  to  end  there. 

As  casual  visitors,  or  volunteer  readers,  were  not  always 
in  the  way,  and  a hired  servant  who  could  not  spell  Latin 
was  of  very  restricted  use,  it  was  not  unnatural  that  Milton 
should  look  to  his  daughters,  as  they  grew  up,  to  take  a 
share  in  supplying  his  voracious  demand  for  intellectual 
food.  Anne,  the  eldest,  though  she  had  handsome  features, 
was  deformed  and  had  an  impediment  in  her  speech,  which 
made  her  unavailable  as  a reader.  The  other  two,  Mary 
and  Deborah,  might  now  have  been  of  inestimable  service 
to  their  father,  had  their  dispositions  led  them  to  adapt 
themselves  to  his  needs,  and  the  circumstances  of  the  house. 
Unfortunate  it  was  for  Milton,  that  his  biblical  views  on 
the  inferiority  of  woman  had  been  reduced  to  practice  in 
the  bringing  up  of  his  own  daughters.  It  cannot  indeed 
be  said  that  the  poet  whose  imagination  created  the  Eve 
of  Paradise  Lost , regarded  woman  as  the  household 
drudge,  existing  only  to  minister  to  man's  wants.  Of  all 
that  men  have  said  of  women  nothing  is  more  loftily  con- 
ceived than  the  well-known  passage  at  the  end  of  Book 
viii  : — 

When  I approach 

Her  loveliness,  so  absolute  she  seems, 

And  in  herself  complete,  so  well  to  know 
Her  own,  that  what  she  wills  to  do  or  say 
Seems  wisest,  virtuousest,  discreetest,  best  ,• 

All  higher  knowledge  in  her  presence  falls 
Degraded,*  wisdom  in  discourse  with  her 
Loses  discountenanc’d,  and  like  folly  shows  $ 
Authority  and  reason  on  her  wait, 

As  one  intended  first,  not  after  made 



Occasionally  ; and,  to  consummate  all, 

Greatness  of  mind,  and.  nobleness,  their  seat 
Build  in  her  loveliest,  and  create  an  awe 
About  her,  as  a guard  angelic  plac’d. 

Bishop  Newton  thought  that,  in  drawing  Eve,  Milton 
had  in  mind  his  third  wife,  because  she  had  hair  of  the 
colour  of  Eve's  “ golden  tresses.”  But  Milton  had  never 
seen  Elizabeth  MinshulL  If  reality  suggested  any  trait, 
physical  or  mental,  of  the  Eve,  it  would  certainly  have 
been  some  woman  seen  in  earlier  years. 

But  wherever  Milton  may  have  met  with  an  incarnation 
of  female  divinity  such  as  he  has  drawn,  it  was  not  in  his 
own  family.  We  cannot  but  ask,  how  is  it  that  one, 
whose  type  of  woman  is  the  loftiest  known  to  English 
literature,  should  have  brought  up  his  own  daughters  on  so 
different  a model  ? Milton  is  not  one  of  the  false  prophets, 
who  turn  round  and  laugh  at  their  own  enthusiasms,  who 
say  one  thing  in  their  verses,  and  another  thing  over  their 
cups.  What  he  writes  in  his  poetry  is  what  he  thinks, 
what  he  means,  and  what  he  will  do.  But  in  directing 
the  bringing  up  of  his  daughters,  he  put  his  own  typical 
woman  entirely  on  one  side.  His  practice  is  framed  on 
the  principle  that 

Nothing  lovelier  can  be  found 
In  woman,  than  to  study  household  good. 

Paradise  Lost,  ix.  233, 

He  did  not  allow  his  daughters  to  learn  any  language, 
saying  with  a gibe  that  one  tongue  was  enough  for  a woman. 
They  were  not  sent  to  any  school,  and  had  some  sort  of 
teaching  at  home  from  a mistress.  But  in  order  to  make 
them  useful  in  reading  to  him,  their  father  was  at  the 
pains  to  train  them  to  read  aloud  in  five  or  six  languages, 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674 


of  non©  of  which  they  understood  one  word.  When  we 
think  of  the  time  and  labour  which  must  have  been  ex- 
pended to  teach  them  to  do  this,  it  must  occur  to  us  that 
a little  more  labour  would  have  sufficed  to  teach  them  so 
much  of  one  or  two  of  the  languages,  as  would  have  made 
their  reading  a source  of  interest  and  improvement  to 
themselves.  This  Milton  refused  to  do.  The  conse- 
quence was,  as  might  have  been  expected,  the  occupation 
became  so  irksome  to  them,  that  they  rebelled  against  it. 
In  the  case  of  one  of  them,  Mary,  who  was  like  her  mother 
in  person,  and  took  after  her  in  other  respects,  this  restive- 
ness passed  into  open  revolt.  She  first  resisted,  then 
neglected,  and  finally  came  to  hate,  her  father.  When 
some  one  spoke  in  her  presence  of  her  father’s  approaching 
marriage,  she  said  “ that  was  no  news  to  hear  of  his  wed- 
ding ; but  if  she  could  hear  of  his  death,  that  was  some- 
thing.” She  combined  with  Anne,  the  eldest  daughter, 
“ to  counsel  his  maidservant  to  cheat  him  in  his  market- 
ings.” They  sold  his  books  without  his  knowledge. 
“ They  made  nothing  of  deserting  him,”  he  was  often 
heard  to  complain.  They  continued  to  live  with  him  five 
or  six  years  after  his  marriage.  But  at  last  the  situation 
became  intolerable  to  both  parties,  and  they  were  sent  out 
to  learn  embroidery  in  gold  or  silver,  as  a means  of  obtain- 
ing their  livelihood.  Deborah,  the  youngest,  was  included 
in  the  same  arrangement,  though  she  seems  to  have  been 
more  helpful  to  her  father,  and  to  have  been  at  one  time 
his  principal  reader.  Aubrey  says  that  he  “ taught  her 
Latin,  and  that  she  was  his  amanuensis.”  She  even  spoke 
of  him  when  she  was  old — she  lived  to  be  seventy -four — 
with  some  tenderness.  She  was  once,  in  1725,  shewn 
Faithorne’s  crayon  drawing  of  the  poet,  without  being  told 
for  whom  it  was  intended.  She  immediately  exclaimed, 




“ 0 Lord  ! that  is  the  picture  of  my  father  ! ” and  stroking 
down  the  hair  of  her  forehead,  added,  “ Just  so  my  father 
wore  his  hair.  ” 

One  of  Milton's  volunteer  readers,  and  one  to  whom  we 
owe  the  most  authentic  account  of  him  in  his  last  years, 
was  a young  Quaker,  named  Thomas  Ellwood.  Milton's 
Puritanism  had  been  all  his  life  slowly  gravitating  in  the 
direction  of  more  and  more  liberty,  and  though  he  would 
not  attach  himself  to  any  sect,  he  must  have  felt  in  no  re- 
mote sympathy  with  men  who  repudiated  state  interference 
in  religious  matters,  and  disdained  ordinances.  Some 
such  sympathy  with  the  pure  spirituality  of  the  Quaker 
may  have  disposed  Milton  favourably  towards  Ellwood, 
The  acquaintance  once  begun,  was  cemented  by  mutual 
advantage.  Milton,  besides  securing  an  intelligent  reader, 
had  a pleasure  in  teaching;  and  Ellwood,  though  the 
reverse  of  humble,  was  teachable  from  desire  to  expand 
himself.  Ellwood  took  a lodging  near  the  poet,  and  went 
to  him  every  day,  except  “ first-day,"  in  the  afternoon,  to 
read  Latin  to  him. 

Milton's  frequent  change  of  abode  has  been  thought 
indicative  of  a restless  temperament,  seeking  escape  from 
petty  miseries  by  change  of  scene.  On  emerging  from 
hiding,  or  escaping  from  the  serjeant-at-arms  in  1660,  he 
lived  for  a short  time  in  Holborn,  near  Red  Lion  Square. 
From  this  he  removed  to  Jewin  Street,  and  moved  again, 
on  his  marriage,  in  1662,  to  the  house  of  Millington,  the 
bookseller,  who  was  now  beginning  business,  but  who, 
before  his  death  in  1704,  had  accumulated  the  largest 
stock  of  second-hand  books  to  be  found  in  London.  His 
last  remove  was  to  a house  in  a newly- created  row  facing 
the  Artillery-ground,  on  the  site  of  the  west  side  of  what 
Is  now  called  Bunhill  Row.  This  was  his  abode  from  his 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660— -1674. 


marriage  till  his  death,  nearly  twelve  years,  a longer  stay 
than  he  had  made  in  any  other  residence.  This  is  the 
house  which  must  be  associated  with  the  poet  of  Paradise 
Lost , as  it  was  here  that  the  poem  was  in  part  written,  and 
wholly  revised  and  finished.  But  the  Bunhill  Bow  house 
is  only  producible  by  the  imagination ; every  trace  of  it 
has  long  been  swept  away,  though  the  name  Milton  Street, 
bestowed  upon  a neighbouring  street,  preserves  the  re- 
membrance of  the  poet’s  connexion  with  the  locality. 
Here  “ an  ancient  clergyman  of  "Dorsetshire,  Dr.  Wright, 
found  John  Milton  in  a small  chamber,  hung  with  rusty 
green,  sitting  in  an  elbow-chair,  and  dressed  neatly  in 
black ; pale,  but  not  cadaverous,  his  hands  and  fingers 
gouty  and  with  chalk-stones.”  At  the  door  of  this  house, 
sitting  in  the  sun,  looking  out  upon  the  Artillery-ground, 
“ in  a grey  coarse  cloth  coat,”  he  would  receive  his  visitors. 
On  colder  days  he  would  walk  for  hours — three  or  four 
hours  at  a time,  in  his  garden.  A garden  was  a sine  qua  non} 
and  he  took  care  to  have  one  to  every  house  he  lived  in. 

His  habit  in  early  life  had  been  to  study  late  into  the 
night.  After  he  lost  his  sight,  he  changed  his  hours,  and 
retired  to  rest  at  nine.  In  summer  he  rose  at  four,  in 
winter  at  five,  and  began  the  day  with  having  the  Hebrew 
Scriptures  read  to  him.  “ Then  he  contemplated.  At 
seven  his  man  came  to  him  again,  and  then  read  to  him 
and  wrote  till  dinner.  The  writing  was  as  much  as  the 
reading”  (Aubrey).  Then  he  took  exercise,  either  walk- 
ing in  the  garden,  or  swinging  in  a machine.  His  only 
recreation,  besides  conversation,  was  music.  He  played 
the  organ  and  the  bass  viol,  the  organ  most.  Sometimes 
he  would  sing  himself  or  get  his  wife  to  sing  to  him, 
though  she  had,  he  said,  no  ear,  yet  a good  voice.  Then 
he  went  up  to  his  study  to  be  read  to  till  six.  After  six 
his  friends  were  admitted  to  visit  him,  and  would  sit  with 


him  till  eight.  At  eight  he  went  down  to  supper,  usually 
olives  or  some  light  thing.  He  was  very  abstemious  in 
his  diet,  having  to  contend  with  a gouty  diathesis.  He 
was  not  fastidious  in  his  choice  of  meats,  but  content  with 
anything  that  was  in  season,  or  easy  to  be  procured. 
After  supping  thus  sparingly,  he  smoked  a pipe  of  to- 
bacco, drank  a glass  of  water,  and  then  retired  to  bed. 
He  was  sparing  in  his  use  of  wine.  His  Samson,  who  in 
this  as  in  other  things,  is  Milton  himself,  allays  his  thirst 
“ from  the  clear  milky  juice.” 

Bed  with  its  warmth  and  recumbent  posture  he  found 
favourable  to  composition.  At  other  times  he  would 
compose  or  prune  his  verses,  as  he  walked  in  the  garden, 
and  then,  coming  in,  dictate.  His  verse  was  not  at  the 
command  of  his  will.  Sometimes  he  would  lie  awake 
the  whole  night,  trying  but  unable  to  make  a single  line. 
At  other  times  lines  flowed  without  premeditation  “ with 
a certain  impetus  and  oestro.”  What  was  his  season  of 
inspiration  is  somewhat  uncertain.  In  the  elegy  “To 
Spring,”  Milton  says  it  was  the  spring  which  restored  his 
poetic  faculty.  Phillips,  however,  says,  “that  his  vein 
never  flowed  happily  but  from  the  autumnal  equinox  to 
the  vernal,”  and  that  the  poet  told  him  this.  Phillips’ 
reminiscence  is  perhaps  true  at  the  date  of  Paradise  Lost , 
when  Milton’s  habits  had  changed  from  what  they  had 
been  at  twenty.  Or  we  may  agree  with  Toland,  that 
Phillips  has  transposed  the  seasons,  though  preserving 
the  fact  of  intermittent  inspiration.  What  he  composed 
at  night,  he  dictated  in  the  day,  sitting  obliquely  in  an 
elbow-chair,  with  his  leg  thrown  over  the  arm.  He 
would  dictate  forty  lines,  as  it  were  in  a breath,  and  then 
reduce  them  to  half  the  number. 

Milton’s  piety  is  admitted,  even  by  his  enemies;  and  it 
is  a piety  which  oppresses  his  writings  as  well  as  his  life. 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


The  fact  that  a man,  with  a deep  sense  of  religion,  should 
not  have  attended  any  place  of  public  worship,  has  given 
great  trouble  to  Milton’s  biographers.  And  the  principal 
biographers  of  this  thorough-going  nonconformist  have 
been  Anglican  clergymen;  Bishop  Newton,  Todd,  Mitford; 
Dr.  Johnson,  more  clerical  than  any  cleric,  being  no  ex- 
ception. Mitford  would  give  Milton  a dispensation  on 
the  score  of  his  age  and  infirmities.  But  the  cause  lay 
deeper.  A profound  apprehension  of  the  spiritual  world 
leads  to  a disregard  of  rites.  To  a mind  so  disposed  ex- 
ternals become,  first  indifferent,  then  impedient.  Minis- 
tration is  officious  intrusion.  I do  not  find  that  Milton, 
though  he  wrote  against  paid  ministers  as  hirelings,  ever 
expressly  formulated  an  opinion  against  ministers  as  such. 
But  as  has  already  been  hinted,  there  grew  up  in  him,  in 
the  last  period  of  his  life,  a secret  sympathy  with  the 
mode  of  thinking  which  came  to  characterise  the  Quaker 
sect.  Not  that  Milton  adopted  any  of  their  peculiar 
fancies.  He  affirms  categorically  the  permissibility  of 
oaths,  of  military  service,  and  requires  that  women  should 
keep  silence  in  the  congregation.  But  in  negativing  all 
means  of  arriving  at  truth  except  the  letter  of  scripture 
interpreted  by  the  inner  light,  he  stood  upon  the  same 
platform  as  the  followers  of  George  Fox. 

Milton’s  latest  utterance  on  theological  topics  is  found 
in  a tract  published  by  him  the  year  before  his  death, 
1673.  The  piece  is  entitled  Of  true  religion , heresy, 
schism,  toleration  ; but  its  meagre  contents  do  not  bear 
out  the  comprehensiveness  of  the  title.  The  only  matter 
really  discussed  in  the  pages  of  the  tract  is  the  limit  of' 
toleration.  The  stamp  of  age  is  upon  the  style,  which  is 
more  careless  and  incoherent  even  than  usual.  He  has 
here  dictated  his  extempore  thoughts,  without  premedi- 
tation or  revision,  so  that  we  have  here  a record  of 




Milton's  habitual  mind.  Having  watched  him  gradually 
emancipating  himself  from  the  contracted  Calvinistic 
mould  of  the  Bread-street  home,  it  is  disappointing  to 
see  that,  at  sixty-five,  his  development  has  proceeded 
no  further  than  we  here  find.  He  is  now  willing  to 
extend  toleration  to  all  sects  who  make  the  Scriptures 
their  sole  rule  of  faith.  Sects  may  misunderstand  Scrip- 
ture, but  to  err  is  the  condition  of  humanity,  and  will 
be  pardoned  by  God,  if  diligence,  prayer,  and  sincerity 
have  been  used.  The  sects  named  as  to  be  tolerated  are, 
Lutherans,  Calvinists,  Anabaptists,  Arians,  Socinians, 
Arminians.  They  are  to  be  tolerated  to  the  extent  of 
being  allowed,  on  all  occasions,  to  give  account  of  their 
faith,  by  arguing,  preaching  in  their  several  assemblies, 
writing  and  printing. 

In  this  pamphlet  the  principle  of  toleration  is  flatly 
enunciated  in  opposition  to  the  practice  of  the  Restoration, 
But  the  principle  is  rested  not  on  the  statesman's  ground 
of  the  irrelevancy  of  religious  dispute  to  good  government, 
but  on  the  theological  ground  of  the  venial  nature  of 
religious  error.  And  to  permissible  error  there  are  very 
narrow  limits ; limits  which  exclude  Catholics.  For 
Milton  will  exclude  Romanists  from  toleration,  not  on 
the  statesman's  ground  of  incivism,  but  on  the  theologian's 
ground  of  idolatry.  All  his  antagonism  in  this  tract  is 
reserved  for  the  Catholics.  There  is  not  a hint  of  dis- 
content with  the  prelatry,  once  intolerable  to  him.  Yet 
that  prelatry  was  now  scourging  the  nonconformists 
with  scorpions  instead  of  with  whips,  with  its  Act  of 
Uniformity,  its  Conventicle  Act,  its  Five-mile  Act,  filling 
the  gaols  with  Milton's  own  friends  and  fellow-religionists. 

N Several  times,  in  these  thirteen  pages,  he  appeals  to  the 
practice  or  belief  of  the  Church  of  England,  once  even 
calling  it  “ our  church." 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


This  tract  alone  is  sufficient  refutation  of  an  idle  story 
that  Milton  died  a Eoman  Catholic.  The  story  is  not  well 
vouched,  being  hearsay  three  times  removed.  Milton’s 
younger  brother,  Sir  Christopher,  is  said  to  have  said  so 
at  a dinner  entertainment.  If  he  ever  did  say  as  much, 
it  must  be  set  down  to  that  peculiar  form  of  credulity 
which  makes  perverts  think  that  every  one  is  about  to 
follow  their  example.  In  Christopher  Milton,  “ a man  of 
no  parts  or  ability,  and  a superstitious  nature”  (Toland), 
such  credulity  found  a congenial  soil. 

The  tract  Of  true  religion  was  Milton’s  latest  pub- 
lished work.  But  he  was  preparing  for  the  press,  at  the 
time  of  his  death,  a more  elaborate  theological  treatise. 
Daniel  Skinner,  a nephew  of  his  old  friend  Cyriac,  was 
serving  as  Milton’s  amanuensis  in  writing  out  a fair  copy. 
Death  came  before  a third  of  the  work  of  correction, 
196  pages  out  of  735,  had  been  completed,  of  which  the 
whole  rough  draft  consists.  The  whole  remained  in 
Daniel  Skinner’s  hands  in  1674.  Milton,  though  in  his 
preface  he  is  aware  that  his  pages  contain  not  a little 
which  will  be  unpalatable  to  the  reigning  opinion  in  re- 
ligion, would  have  dared  publication,  if  he  could  have 
passed  the  censor.  But  Daniel  Skinner,  who  was  a 
Fellow  of  Trinity,  and  had  a career  before  him,  was  not 
equally  free.  What  could  not  appear  in  London,  how- 
ever, might  be  printed  at  Amsterdam.  Skinner  accord- 
ingly put  both  the  theological  treatise,  and  the  epistles 
written  by  the  Latin  Secretary,  into  the  hands  of  Daniel 
Elzevir.  The  English  government  getting  intelligence 
of  the  proposed  publication  of  the  foreign  correspondence 
of  the  Parliament  and  the  Protector,  interfered,  and 
pressure  was  put  upon  Skinner,  through  the  Master  of 
Trinity,  Isaac  Barrow.  Skinner  hastened  to  save  him. 




self  from  the  fate  which  in  1681  befel  Locke,  and  gave 
up  to  the  Secretary  of  State,  not  only  the  Latin  letters, 
but  the  MS.  of  the  theological  treatise.  Nothing  further 
was  known  as  to  the  fate  of  the  MS.  till  1823,  when  it 
was  disinterred  from  one  of  the  presses  of  the  old  State 
Paper  Office.  The  Secretary  of  State,  Sir  Joseph  Wil- 
liamson, when  he  retired  from  office  in  1678,  instead 
of  carrying  away  his  correspondence  as  had  been  the  cus- 
tom, left  it  behind  him.  Thus  it  was  that  the  Treatise 
of  Christian  doctrine  first  saw  light,  one  hundred  and 
fifty  years  after  the  author’s  death. 

In  a work  which  had  been  written  as  a text-book  for 
the  use  of  learners,  there  can  be  little  scope  for  origi- 
nality. And  Milton  follows  the  division  of  the  matter 
into  heads  usual  in  the  manuals  then  current.  But  it 
was  impossible  for  Milton  to  handle  the  dry  bones  of  a 
^divinity  compendium  without  stirring  them  into  life. 
And  divinity  which  is  made  to  live,  necessarily  becomes 

The  usual  method  of  the  school  text-books  of  the 
seventeenth  century  was  to  exhibit  dogma  in  the  artificial 
terminology  of  the  controversies  of  the  sixteenth  century 
For  this  procedure  Milton  substitutes  the  words  of  Scrip- 
ture  simply.  The  traditional  terms  of  the  text-books 
are  retained,  but  they  are  employed  only  as  heads  under 
which  to  arrange  the  words  of  Scripture.  This  process, 
which  in  other  hands  would  be  little  better  than  index 
making,  becomes  here  pregnant  with  meaning.  The 
originality  which  Milton  voluntarily  resigns,  in  em- 
ploying only  the  words  of  the  Bible,  he  recovers  by  his 
freedom  of  exposition.  He  shakes  himself  loose  from  the 
trammels  of  traditional  exposition,  and  looks  at  the  texts 
for  himself.  The  truth  was 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


Left  only  in  those  written  records  pure, 

Though  not  but  by  the  spirit  understood. 

Paradise  Lost , xii.  510. 

Upon  the  points  which  interested  him  most  closely, 
Milton  knew  that  his  understanding  of  the  text  differed 
/ from  the  standard  of  Protestant  orthodoxy.  That  God 
created  matter,  not  out  of  nothing,  hut  out  of  Himself, 
and  that  death  is,  in  the  course  of  nature,  total  extinction 
j of  being,  though  not  opinions  received,  were  not  singular. 
/ More  startling,  to  European  modes  of  thinking,  is  his  as* 
j sertion  that  polygamy  is  not,  in  itself,  contrary  to  morality, 
though  it  may  be  inexpedient.  The  religious  sentiment 
of  his  day  was  offended  by  his  vigorous  vindication  of  the 
freewill  of  man  against  the  reigning  Calvinism,  and  his 
assertion  of  the  inferiority  of  the  Son  in  opposition  to  the 
received  Athanasianism.  He  labours  this  point  of  the 
nature  of  God  with  especial  care,  showing  how  greatly  it 
occupied  his  thoughts.  He  arranges  his  texts  so  as  to 
exhibit  in  Scriptural  language  the  semi-Arian  scheme,  i.  e. 
a scheme  which,  admitting  the  co-essentiality,  denies  the 
eternal  generation.  Through  all  this  manipulation  of 
texts  we  seem  to  see,  that  Milton  is  not  the  school  logi- 
cian erecting  a consistent  fabric  of  words,  but  that  he  is 
dominated  by  an  imagination  peopled  with  concrete  per- 
sonalities, and  labouring  to  assign  their  places  to  the 
Father  and  the  Son  as  separate  agents  in  the  mundane 
drama.  The  De  doctrina  Christiana  is  the  prose  counter- 
part of  Paradise  Lost  and  Regained , a caput  mortuum  of 
^ — the  poems,  with  every  ethereal  particle  evaporated. 

In  the  royal  injunctions  of  1614,  James  I.  had  ordered 
students  in  the  universities  not  to  insist  too  long  upon 
compendiums,  but  to  study  the  Scriptures,  and  to  bestow 
their  time  upon  the  fathers  and  councils.  In  his  attempt 




to  express  dogmatic  theology  in  the  words  of  Scripture, 
Milton  was  unwittingly  obeying  this  injunction.  The 
other  part  of  the  royal  direction  as  to  fathers  and  councils 
it  was  not  in  Milton’s  plan  to  carry  out.  Neither  indeed 
was  it  in  his  power,  for  he  had  not  the  necessary  learning. 
M.  Scherer  says  that  Milton  “ laid  all  antiquity,  sacred 
and  profane,  under  contribution.”  So  far  is  this  from 
being  the  case,  that  while  he  exhibits,  in  this  treatise,  an 
intimate  knowledge  of  the  text  of  the  canonical  books, 
Hebrew  and  Greek,  there  is  an  absence  of  that  average 
acquaintance  with  Christian  antiquity  which  formed  at 
that  day  the  professional  outfit  of  the  episcopal  divine. 
Milton’s  references  to  the  fathers  are  perfunctory  and 
second-hand.  The  only  citation  of  Chrysostom,  for  in- 
stance, which  I have  noticed  is  in  these  words : “ the  same 
is  said  to  be  the  opinion  of  Chrysostom,  Luther,  and  other 
moderns.”  He  did  not  esteem  the  judgment  of  the  fathers 
sufficiently,  to  deem  them  worth  studying.  In  the  inter- 
pretation of  texts,  as  in  other  matters  of  opinion,  Milton 
withdrew  within  the  fortress  of  his  absolute  personality. 

I have  now  to  relate  the  external  history  of  the  com- 
position of  Paradise  Lost  When  Milton  had  to  skulk 
for  a time  in  1660,  he  was  already  in  steady  work  upon 
the  poem.  Though  a few  lines  of  it  were  composed  as 
early  as  1642,  it  was  not  till  1658  that  he  took  up  the 
task  of  composition  continuously.  If  we  may  trust  our 
only  authority  (Aubrey-Phillips),  he  had  finished  it  in 
1663,  about  the  time  of  his  marriage.  In  polishing, 
re-writing,  and  writing  out  fair,  much  might  remain 
to  be  done,  after  the  poem  was,  in  a way,  finished. 
It  is  in  1665,  that  we  first  make  acquaintance  with 
Paradise  Lost  in  a complete  state.  This  was  the  year 


THIRD  PERIOD,  1660—1674 


of  the  plague,  known  in  our  annals  as  the  Great  Plague, 
to  distinguish  its  desolating  ravages  from  former  slighter 
visitations  of  the  epidemic.  Every  one  who  could  fled 
from  the  city  of  destruction.  Milton  applied  to  his 
young  friend  Ellwood  to  find  him  a shelter.  Ellwood, 
who  was  then  living  as  tutor  in  the  house  of  the  Pen- 
ningtons, took  a cottage  for  Milton  in  their  neighbour- 
hood, at  Chalfont  St.  Giles,  in  the  county  of  Bucks. 
Not  only  the  Penningtons,  but  General  Fleetwood  had 
also  his  residence  near  this  village,  and  a report  is  men- 
tioned by  Howitt  that  it  was  Fleetwood  who  provided 
the  ex-secretary  with  a refuge.  The  society  of  neither 
of  these  friends  was  available  for  Milton.  For  Fleetwood 
was  a sentenced  regicide,  and  in  July,  Pennington  and 
Ellwood  were  hurried  off  to  Aylesbury  gaol  by  an  inde- 
fatigable justice  of  the  peace,  who  was  desirous  of  giving 
evidence  of  his  zeal  for  the  king's  government.  That 
the  Chalfont  cottage  ((  was  not  pleasantly  situated,”  must 
have  been  indifferent  to  the  blind  old  man,  as  much  so 
as  that  the  immediate  neighbourhood,  with  its  heaths  and 
wooded  uplands,  reproduced  the  scenery  he  had  loved 
when  he  wrote  L\ Allegro. 

As  soon  as  Ellwood  was  relieved  from  imprisonment,  he 
returned  to  Chalfont.  Then  it  was  that  Milton  put  into 
his  hands  the  completed  Paradise  Lost , “ bidding  me  take 
it  home  with  me,  and  read  it  at  my  leisure,  and  when  I had 
so  done,  return  it  to  him  with  my  judgment  thereupon.” 
On  returning  it,  besides  giving  the  author  the  benefit  of 
his  judgment,  a judgment  not  preserved,  and  not  indis- 
pensable— the  Quaker  made  his  famous  speech,  “Thou 
hast  said  much  here  of  Paradise  Lost , but  what  hast  thou 
to  say  of  Paradise  found?”  Milton  afterwards  told 
Ellwood  that  to  this  casual  question  was  due  his  writing 
Paradise  Regained . We  are  not,  however,  to  take  this 




complaisant  speech  quite  literally,  for  it  is  highly  probable 
that  the  later  poem  was  included  in  the  original  con- 
ception, if  not  in  the  scheme  of  the  first  epic.  But  we  do 
get  from  Ellwood’s  reminiscence  a date  for  the  beginning 
of  Paradise  Regained , which  must  have  been  at  Chalfont 
in  the  autumn  of  1665. 

When  the  plague  was  abated,  and  the  city  had  become 
safely  habitable,  Milton  returned  to  Artillery  Bow.  He 
had  not  been  long  back  when  London  was  devastated  by 
a fresh  calamity,  only  less  terrible  than  the  plague,  because 
it  destroyed  the  home,  and  not  the  life.  The  Great  Fire 
succeeded  the  Great  Plague.  13,000  houses,  two-thirds 
of  the  city,  were  reduced  to  ashes,  and  the  whole  current 
of  life  and  business  entirely  suspended.  Through  these 
two  overwhelming  disasters,  Milton  must  have  been 
supporting  his  solitary  spirit  by  writing  Paradise  Re- 
gained, Samson  Agonist  es,  and  giving  the  final  touches 
to  Paradise  Lost . He  was  now  so  wholly  unmoved  by 
his  environment,  that  we  look  in  vain  in  the  poems*  for 
any  traces  of  this  season  of  suffering  and  disaster.  The 
past  and  his  own  meditations  were  now  all  in  all  to  him ; 
the  horrors  of  the  present  were  as  nothing  to  a man  who 
had  outlived  his  hopes.  Plague  and  fire,  what  were  they, 
after  the  ruin  of  the  noblest  of  causes  1 The  stoical  com- 
pression of  Paradise  Regained  is  in  perfect  keeping  with 
the  fact  that  it  was  in  the  middle  of  the  ruins  of  London 
that  Milton  placed  his  finished  poem  in  the  hands  of  the 

For  licenser  there  was  now,  the  Archbishop  oi 
Canterbury  to  wit,  for  religious  literature.  Of  course  the 
Primate  read  by  deputy,  usually  one  of  his  chaplains. 
The  reader  into  whose  hands  Paradise  Lost  came,  though 
an  Oxford  man,  and  a cleric  on  his  preferment,  who  had 
written  his  pamphlet  against  the  dissenters,  happened 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674. 


to  be  one  whose  antecedents,  as  Fellow  of  All  Souls, 
and  Proctor  (in  1663),  ensured  his  taking  a less  pedantic 
and  bigoted  view  of  his  duties.  Still,  though  Dryden's 
dirty  plays  would  have  encountered  no  objection  before 
such  a tribunal,  the  same  facilities  were  not  likely  to  be 
accorded  to  anything  which  bore  the  name  of  John 
Milton,  ex-secretary  to  Oliver,  and  himself  an  austere 
republican.  Tomkyns— ~ that  was  the  young  chaplain's 
name— did  stumble  at  a phrase  in  Book  i.  598, 

With  fear  of  change 
Perplexes  monarchs. 

There  had  been  in  England,  and  were  to  be  again,  times 
when  men  had  hanged  for  less  than  this.  Tomkyns,  who 
was  sailing  on  the  smooth  sea  of  preferment  with  a fair 
wind,  did  not  wish  to  get  into  trouble,  but  at  last  he  let 
the  book  pass.  Perhaps  he  thought  it  was  only  religious 
verse  written  for  the  sectaries,  which  would  never  be 
heard  of  at  court,  or  among  the  wits,  and  that  therefore  it 
was  of  little  consequence  what  it  contained, 

A publisher  was  found,  notwithstanding  that  Paul's,  or 
as  it  now  was  again,  St.  PauTs-Churchyard  had  ceased 
to  exist,  in  Aldersgate,  which  lay  outside  the  circuit  of 
the  conflagration.  The  agreement,  still  preserved  in  the 
national  museum,  between  the  author,  “John  Milton, 
gent,  of  the  one  parte,  and  Samuel  Symons,  printer, 
of  the  other  parte,"  is  among  the  curiosities  of  our  literary 
history.  The  curiosity  consists  not  so  much  in  the 
illustrious  name  appended  (not  in  autograph)  to  the  deed, 
as  in  the  contrast  between  the  present  fame  of  the  book, 
and  the  waste-paper  price  at  which  the  copyright  is  being 
valued.  The  author  received  51.  down,  was  to  receive  a 
second  51.  when  the  first  edition  should  be  sold,  a third 
51.  when  the  second,  and  a fourth  51.  when  the  third 




edition  should  he  gone.  Milton  lived  to  receive  the 
second  51.,  and  no  more,  10/.  in  all,  for  Paradise  Lost . 
I cannot  bring  myself  to  join  in  the  lamentations  of  the 
biographers  over  this  bargain.  Surely  it  is  better  so; 
better  to  know  that  the  noblest  monument  of  English 
letters  had  no  money  value,  than  to  think  of  it  as  having 
been  paid  for  at  a pound  the  line. 

The  agreement  with  Symons  is  dated  27  April,  1667,  the 
entry  in  the  register  of  Stationers’  Hall  is  20th  August. 
It  was  therefore  in  the  autumn  of  1667  that  Paradise 
Lost  was  in  the  hands  of  the  public.  We  have  no  data 
for  the  time  occupied  in  the  composition  of  Paradise 
Regained  and  Samson  Agonistes.  We  have  seen  that  the 
former  poem  was  begun  at  Chalfont  in  1665,  and  it  may 
be  conjecturally  stated  that  Samson  was  finished  before 
September,  1667.  At  any  rate,  both  the  poems  were  pub- 
lished together  in  the  autumn  of  1670. 

Milton  had  four  years  more  of  life  granted  him  after 
this  publication.  But  he  wrote  no  more  poetry.  It  was 
as  if  he  had  exhausted  his  strength  in  a last  effort,  in  the 
Promethean  agony  of  Samson,  and  knew  that  his  hour  of 
inspiration  was  passed  away.  But,  like  all  men  who  have 
once  tasted  the  joys  and  pangs  of  composition,  he  could 
not  now  do  without  its  excitement.  The  occupation,  and 
the  indispensable  solace  of  the  last  ten  sad  years,  had  been 
his  poems.  He  would  not  write  more  verse,  when  the 
oestrus  was  not  on  him,  but  he  must  write.  He  took  up  all 
the  dropped  threads  of  past  years,  ambitious  plans  formed 
in  the  fulness  of  vigour,  and  laid  aside,  but  not  abandoned. 
He  was  the  very  opposite  of  Shelley,  who  could  never  look 
at  a piece  of  his  own  composition  a second  time,  but  when 
he  had  thrown  it  off  at  a heat,  rushed  into  something  else. 
Milton’s  adhesiveness  was  such  that  he  could  never  give 



THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


up  a design  once  entered  upon.  In  these  four  years,  as  if 
conscious  that  his  time  was  now  nearly  out,  he  laboured 
to  complete  five  such  early  undertakings. 

(1.)  Of  his  Compendium  of  Theology  I have  already 
spoken.  He  was  overtaken  by  death  while  preparing  this 
for  the  press. 

(2.)  His  History  of  Britain  must  have  cost  him  much 
labour,  bestowed  upon  comparison  of  the  conflicting 
authorities.  It  is  the  record  of  the  studies  he  had  made 
for  his  abandoned  epic  poem,  and  is  evidence  how  much 
the  subject  occupied  his  mind. 

The  History  of  Britain , 1670,  had  been  preceded  by 
(3)  a Latin  grammar,  in  1669,  and  was  followed  by  (4) 
a Logic  on  the  method  of  Ramus,  1672. 

(5.)  In  1673  he  brought  out  a new  edition  of  his  early 
volume  of  Poems.  In  this  volume  he  printed  for  the 
first  time  the  sonnets,  and  other  pieces,  which  had  been 
written  in  the  interval  of  twenty-seven  years  since  the  date 
of  his  first  edition.  Not,  indeed,  all  the  sonnets  which  we 
now  have.  Four,  in  which  Fairfax,  Vane,  Cromwell,  and 
the  Commonwealth  are  spoken  of  as  Milton  would  speak 
of  them,  were  necessarily  kept  back,  and  not  put  into  print 
till  1694,  by  Phillips,  at  the  end  of  his  life  of  his  uncle. 

In  proportion  to  the  trouble  which  Milton’s  words  cost 
him,  was  his  care  in  preserving  them.  His  few  Latin 
letters  to  his  foreign  friends  are  remarkably  barren  either 
of  fact  or  sentiment.  But  Milton  liked  them  well  enough 
to  have  kept  copies  of  them,  and  now  allowed  a publisher, 
Brabazon  Aylmer,  to  issue  them  in  print,  adding  to  them, 
with  a view  to  make  out  a volume,  his  college  exercises, 
which  he  had  also  preserved. 

Among  the  papers  which  he  left  at  his  death,  were  the 
beginnings  of  two  undertakings,  either  of  them  of  over- 




whelming  magnitude,  which  he  did  not  live  to  complete. 
We  have  seen  that  he  taught  his  pupils  geography  out  of 
Davity , Description  de  VUnivers . He  was  not  satisfied 
with  this,  or  with  any  existing  compendium.  They  were 
all  dry ; exact  enough  with  their  latitudes  and  longitudes, 
but  omitted  such  uninteresting  stuff  as  manners,  govern- 
ment, religion,  &c.  Milton  would  essay  a better  system. 
All  he  had  ever  executed  was  Russia,  taking  the  pains  to 
turn  over  and  extract  for  his  purpose  all  the  best  travels 
in  that  country.  This  is  the  fragment  which  figures  in  his 
Works  as  a Brief  History  of  Moscovia . 

The  hackneyed  metaphor  of  Pegasus  harnessed  to  a 
luggage  trolley,  will  recur  to  us  when  we  think  of  the 
author  of  V Allegro,  setting  himself  to  compile  a Latin 
lexicon.  If  there  is  any  literary  drudgery  more  mechani- 
cal than  another,  it  is  generally  supposed  to  be  that  of 
making  a dictionary.  Hot  had  he  taken  to  this  industry 
as  a resource  in  age,  when  the  genial  flow  of  invention  had 
dried  up,  and  original  composition  had  ceased  to  be  in  his 
power.  The  three  folio  volumes  of  MS.  which  Milton  left 
were  the  work  of  his  youth  ; it  was  a work  which  the  loss 
of  eyesight  of  necessity  put  an  end  to.  It  is  not  Milton 
only,  but  all  students  who  read  with  an  alert  mind,  read- 
ing to  grow,  and  not  to  remember,  who  have  felt  the  want 
of  an  occupation  which  shall  fill  those  hours  when  mental 
vigilance  is  impossible,  and  vacuity  unendurable.  Index- 
making or  cataloguing  has  been  the  resource  of  many  in 
such  hours.  But  it  was  not,  I think,  as  a mere  shifting 
of  mental  posture  that  Milton  undertook  to  rewrite  Robert 
Stephens  ; it  was  as  part  of  his  language  training.  Only 
by  diligent  practice  and  incessant  exercise  of  attention  and 
care,  could  Milton  have  educated  his  susceptibility  to  the 
specific  powrer  of  words,  to  the  nicety  which  he  attained 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 

[CH.  XII. 

beyond  any  other  of  our  poets.  Part  of  this  education  is 
recorded  in  the  seemingly  withered  leaves  of  his  Latin 
Thesaurus,  though  the  larger  part  must  have  been 
achieved,  not  by  a reflective  and  critical  collection  of 
examples,  but  by  a vital  and  impassioned  reading. 

Milton's  complaint  was  what  the  profession  of  that  day 
called  gout.  “He  would  be  very  cheerful  even  in  his 
gout  fits,  and  sing,”  says  Aubrey.  This  gout  returned 
again  and  again,  and  by  these  repeated  attacks  wore  out 
his  resisting  power.  He  died  of  the  “ gout  struck  in  ” on 
Sunday,  8th  November,  1674,  and  was  buried,  near  his 
father,  in  the  chancel  of  St.  Giles^,  Cripplegate.  The 
funeral  was  attended,  Toland  says,  “ by  all  his  learned  and 
great  friends  in  London,  not  without  a friendly  concourse 
of  the  vulgar.”  The  disgusting  profanation  of  the  leaden 
coffin,  and  dispersion  of  the  poet's  bones  by  the  parochial 
authorities,  during  the  repair  of  the  church  in  August, 
1790,  has  been  denied,  but  it  is  to  be  feared  the  fact  is 
too  true. 



“ Many  men  of  forty,”  it  has  "been  said,  “ are  dead  poets 
and  it  might  seem  that  Milton,  Latin  secretary,  and  party 
pamphleteer,  had  died  to  poetry  about  the  fatal  age.  In 
1645,  when  he  made  a gathering  of  his  early  pieces  for  the 
volume  published  by  Humphry  Moseley,  he  wanted  three 
years  of  forty.  That  volume  contained,  besides  other 
things,  Comus , Lycidas , U Allegro,  and  II  JPenseroso ; 
then,  when  produced,  as  they  remain  to  this  day,  the 
finest  flower  of  English  poesy.  But,  though  thus  like  a 
wary  husbandman,  garnering  his  sheaves  in  presence  of 
the  threatening  storm,  Milton  had  no  intention  of  bidding 
farewell  to  poetry.  On  the  contrary,  he  regarded  this 
volume  only  as  first-fruits,  an  earnest  of  greater  things  to 

The  ruling  idea  of  Milton’s  life,  and  the  key  to  his 
mental  history,  is  his  resolve  to  produce  a great  poem. 
Not  that  the  aspiration  in  itself  is  singular,  for  it  is  pro- 
bably shared  by  every  young  poet  in  his  turn.  As  every 
clever  schoolboy  is  destined  by  himself  or  his  friends  to 
become  Lord  Chancellor,  and  every  private  in  the  French 
army  carries  in  his  haversack  the  baton  of  a marshal,  so 
it  is  a necessary  ingredient  of  the  dream  on  Parnassus, 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


that  it  should  embody  itself  in  a form  of  surpassing  bril- 
liance. What  distinguishes  Milton  from  the  crowd  of 
young  ambition,  “ audax  juventa,”  is  the  constancy  of 
resolve.  He  not  only  nourished  through  manhood  the 
dream  of  youth,  keeping  under  the  importunate  instincts 
which  carry  off  most  ambitions  in  middle  life  into  the 
pursuit  of  place,  profit,  honour — the  thorns  which  spring 
up  and  smother  the  wheat — but  carried  out  his  dream  in 
its  integrity  in  old  age.  He  formed  himself  for  this 
achievement,  and  for  no  other.  Study  at  home,  travel 
abroad,  the  arena  of  political  controversy,  the  public 
service,  the  practice  of  the  domestic  virtues,  were  so  many 
parts  of  the  schooling  which  was  to  make  a poet. 

The  reader  who  has  traced  with  me  thus  far  the  course 
of  Milton's  mental  development  will  perhaps  be  ready  to 
believe,  that  this  idea  had  taken  entire  possession  of  his 
mind  from  a very  early  age.  The  earliest  written  record 
of  it  is  of  date  1632,  in  Sonnet  n.  This  was  written 
as  early  as  the  poet's  twenty-third  year ; and  in  these 
lines  the  resolve  is  uttered,  not  as  then  just  conceived,  but 
as  one  long  brooded  upon,  and  its  non-fulfilment  matter 
of  self-reproach. 

If  this  sonnet  stood  alone,  its  relevance  to  a poetical,  or 
even  a literary  performance,  might  be  doubtful.  But  at 
the  time  of  its  composition  it  is  enclosed  in  a letter  to  an 
unnamed  friend,  who  seems  to  have  been  expressing  his 
surprise  that  the  Cambridge  B.  A.  was  not  settling  himself, 
now  that  his  education  was  complete,  to  a profession. 
Milton's  apologetic  letter  is  extant,  and  was  printed  by 
Birch  in  1738.  It  intimates  that  Milton  did  not  consider 
his  education,  for  the  purposes  he  had  in  view,  as  anything 
like  complete.  It  is  not  “ the  endless  delight  of  specula- 
tion,'' but  “a  religious  advisement  how  best  to  undergo  ; 




not  taking  thought  of  being  late,  so  it  give  advantage  to 
be  more  fit.”  He  repudiates  the  love  of  learning  for  its 
own  sake ; knowledge  is  not  an  end,  it  is  only  equipment 
for  performance.  There  is  here  no  specific  engagement  as 
to  the  nature  of  the  performance.  But  what  it  is  to  he,  is 
suggested  by  the  enclosure  of  the  “ Petrarchian  stanza  ” 
(i.  e.  the  sonnet).  This  notion  that  his  life  was  like 
Samuel's,  a dedicated  life,  dedicated  to  a service  which 
required  a long  probation,  recurs  again  more  than  once  in 
his  writings.  It  is  emphatically  repeated,  in  1641,  in  a 
passage  of  the  pamphlet  Ho.  4 

None  hath  by  more  studious  ways  endeavoured,  and  with 
more  unwearied  spirit  none  shall, — that  I dare  almost  aver  of 
myself,  as  far  as  life  and  full  license  will  extend.  Neither  do  I 
think  it  shame  to  covenant  with  any  knowing  reader  that  for 
some  few  years  yet  I may  go  on  trust  with  him  toward  the  pay- 
ment of  what  I am  now  indebted,  as  being  a work  not  to  be 
raised  from  the  heat  of  youth,  or  the  vapours  of  wine,  like  that 
which  flows  at  waste  from  the  pen  of  some  vulgar  amorist,  or 
the  trencher  fury  of  a rhyming  parasite,  nor  to  be  obtained 
by  the  invocation  of  Dame  Memory  and  her  siren  daughters, 
but  by  devout  prayer  to  that  Eternal  Spirit  who  can  enrich 
with  all  utterance  and  knowledge,  and  sends  out  his  seraphim 
with  the  hallowed  fire  of  his  altar  to  touch  and  purify  the  life 
of  whom  he  pleases.  To  this  must  be  added  industrious  and 
select  reading,  steady  observation,  insight  into  all  seemly  and 
generous  acts  and  affairs.  Till  which  in  some  measure  be  com- 
passed, at  mine  own  peril  and  cost,  I refuse  not  to  sustain  this 
expectation,  from  as  many  as  are  not  loth  to  hazard  so  much 
credulity  upon  the  best  pledges  that  I can  give  them. 

In  1638,  at  the  age  of  nine  and  twenty,  Milton  has 
already  determined  that  this  lifework  shall  be  a poem, 
an  epic  poem,  and  that  its  subject  shall  probably  be  the 
Arthurian  legend. 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


Si  quae  do  indigenas  revocabo  in  carmina  reges, 
Artummque  etiam  sub  terris  bella  moventem, 

Aut  dicam  invictas  sociali  feedere  mens® 

Magnanimos  heroas,  et,  o modo  spiritus  adsit ! 

Frangam  Saxonicas  Britonum  sub  marte  phalangas. 

May  I find  such  a friend  ....  when,  if  ever,  I shall  revive 
in  song  our  native  princes,  and  among  them  Arthur  moving  to 
the  fray  even  in  the  nether  world,  and  when  I shall,  if  only 
inspiration  be  mine,  break  the  Saxon  bands  before  our  Britons1 

The  same  announcement  is  reproduced  in  the  Epi- 
taphium  Damonis , 1639,  and,  in  Pamphlet  No.  4,  in  the 
often-quoted  words  : — 

Perceiving  that  some  trifles  which  I had  in  memory,  com- 
posed at  under  twenty,  or  thereabout,  met  with  acceptance,  . . . 
I began  to  assent  to  them  (the  Italians)  and  divers  of  my 
friends  here  at  home,  and  not  less  to  an  inward  prompting 
which  now  grows  daily  upon  me,  that  by  labour  and  intent 
study,  which  I take  to  be  my  portion  in  this  life,  joined  with 
the  strong  propensity  of  nature,  I might  perhaps  leave  some- 
thing so  written  to  aftertimes  as  they  should  not  willingly  let 
it  die. 

Between  the  publication  of  the  collected  Poems  in 
1645,  and  the  appearance  of  Paradise  Lost  in  1667,  a 
period  of  twenty-two  years,  Milton  gave  no  public  sign 
of  redeeming  this  pledge.  He  se6med  to  his  cotempo- 
raries to  have  renounced  the  follies  of  his  youth,  the 
gewgaws  of  verse,  and  to  have  sobered  down  into  the 
useful  citizen.  “ Le  bon  poete,”  thought  Malherbe, 
“n’est  pas  plus  utile  a Tetat  qu’un  bon  joueur  de  quilles.” 
Milton  had  postponed  his  poem,  in  1641,  till  “the  land 
had  once  enfranchished  herself  from  this  impertinent  yoke 
of  prelatry,  under  whose  inquisitorious  and  tyrannical 




duncery  no  free  and  splendid  wit  can  flourish.”  Prelatry 
was  swept  away,  and  he  asked  for  further  remand  on 
account  of  the  war.  Peace  was  concluded,  the  country 
was  settled  under  the  strong  government  of  a Protector, 
and  Milton's  great  work  did  not  appear.  It  was  not  even 
preparing.  He  was  writing  not  poetry  but  prose,  and 
that  most  ephemeral  and  valueless  kind  of  prose,  pam- 
phlets, extempore  articles  on  the  topics  of  the  day.  He 
poured  out  reams  of  them,  in  simple  unconsciousness  that 
they  had  no  influence  whatever  on  the  current  of  events. 

Hor  was  it  that,  during  all  these  years,  Milton  was 
meditating  in  secret  what  he  could  not  bring  forward  in 
public ; that  he  was  only  holding  back  from  publishing, 
because  there  was  no  public  ready  to  listen  to  his 
song.  In  these  years  Milton  wa^  neither  writing  nor 
thinking  poetry.  Of  the  twenty-four  sonnets  indeed— 
twenty-four,  reckoning  the  twenty-lined  piece,  “ The 
forcers  of  conscience,”  as  a sonnet — eleven  belong  to  this 
period.  But  they  do  not  form  a continuous  series,  such 
as  do  Wordsworth's  Ecclesiastical  Sonnets , nor  do  they 
evince  a sustained  mood  of  poetical  meditation.  On  the 
contrary,  their  very  force  and  beauty  consist  in  their 
being  the  momentary  and  spontaneous  explosion  of  an 
emotion  welling  up  from  the  depths  of  the  soul,  and 
forcing  itself  into  metrical  expression,  as  it  were,  in  spite 
of  the  writer.  While  the  first  eight  sonnets,  written 
before  1645,  are  sonnets  of  reminiscence  and  intention, 
like  those  of  the  Italians,  or  the  ordinary  English  sonnet, 
the  eleven  sonnets  of  Milton's  silent  period,  from  1645  to 
1658,  are  records  of  present  feeling  kindled  by  actual 
facts.  In  their  naked,  unadorned  simplicity  of  language, 
they  may  easily  seem,  to  a reader  fresh  from  Petrarch,  to 
be  homely  and  prosaic.  Place  them  in  relation  to  the 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


circumstance  on  which  each  piece  turns,  and  we  begin  to 
feel  the  superiority  for  poetic  effect  of  real  emotion  over 
emotion  meditated  and  revived.  History  has  in  it  \hat 
which  can  touch  us  more  abidingly  than  any  fiction.  It 
is  this  actuality  which  distinguishes  the  sonnets  of  Milton 
from  any  other  sonnets.  Of  this  difference  Wordsworth 
was  conscious  when  he  struck  out  the  phrase,  “ In  his 
hand  the  thing  became,  a trumpet.”  Macaulay  compared 
the  sonnets  in  their  majestic  severity  to  the  collects. 
They  remind  us  of  a Hebrew  psalm,  with  its  undisguised 
outrush  of  rage,  revenge,  exultation,  or  despair,  where 
nothing  is  due  to  art  or  artifice,  and  whose  poetry  is  the 
expression  of  the  heart,  and  not  a branch  of  literature. 
It  is  in  the  sonnets  we  most  realise  the  force  of  Words- 
worth’s image — 

Thou  hadst  a voice  whose  sound  was  like  the  sea. 

We  are  not  then  to  look  in  the  sonnets  for  latent  traces 
of  the  suspended  poetic  creation.  They  come  from  the 
other  side  of  Milton’s  nature,  the  political,  not  the  artistic. 
They  are  akin  to  the  prose  pamphlets,  not  to  Paradise  Lost. 
Just  when  the  sonnets  end,  the  composition  of  the  epic 
was  taken  in  hand.  The  last  of  the  sonnets  (23  in  the 
ordinary  numeration)  was  written  in  1658,  and  it  is  to 
the  same  year  that  our  authority,  Aubrey-Phillips,  refers 
his  beginning  to  occupy  himself  with  Paradise  Lost.  He 
had  ’by  this  time  settled  the  two  points  about  which  he 
had  been  long  in  doubt,  the  subject,  and  the  form.  Long 
before  bringing  himself  to  the  point  of  composition,  he 
had  decided  upon  the  Fall  of  man  as  subject,  and  upon  the 
narrative,  or  epic,  form,  in  preference  to  the  dramatic.  It 
is  even  possible  that  a few  isolated  passages  of  the  poem, 
as  it  now  stands,  may  have  been  written  before.  Of  one 




such  passage  we  know  that  it  was  written  fifteen  or 
sixteen  years  before  1658,  and  while  he  was  still  con- 
templating a drama.  The  lines  are  Satan's  speech,  P . L. 
iv.  32,  beginning, — 

O,  thou  that  with  surpassing  glory  crowned. 

These  lines,  Phillips  says,  his  uncle  recited  to  him,  as 
forming  the  opening  of  his  tragedy.  They  are  modelled, 
as  the  classical  reader  will  perceive,  upon  Euripides. 
Possibly  they  were  not  intended  for  the  very  first  lines, 
since  if  Milton  intended  to  follow  the  practice  of  his  model, 
the  lofty  lyrical  tone  of  this  address  should  have  been 
introduced  by  a prosaic  matter-of-fact  setting  forth  of  the 
situation,  as  in  the  Euripidean  prologue.  There  are  other 
passages  in  the  poem  which  have  the  air  of  being  insiti- 
tious  in  the  place  where  they  stand.  The  lines  in  Book  iv, 
now  in  question,  may  reasonably  be  referred  to  1640-42, 
the  date  of  those  leaves  in  the  Trinity  College  MS.,  in 
which  Milton  has  written  down,  with  his  own  hand,w 
various  sketches  of  tragedies,  which  might  possibly  be 
adopted  as  his  final  choice. 

A passage  in  The  Reason  of  Church  Government , written 
at  the  same  period,  1641,  gives  us  the  the  fullest  account 
of  his  hesitation  It  was  a hesitation  caused,  partly  by 
the  wealth  of  matter  which  his  reading  suggested  to  him, 
partly  by  the  consciousness  that  he  ought  not  to  begin  in 
haste  while  each  year  was  ripening  his  powers.  Every 
one  who  has  undertaken  a work  of  any  length  has  made 
the  experience,  that  the  faculty  of  composition  will  not 
work  with  ease,  until  the  reason  is  satisfied  that  the  sub- 
ject chosen  is  a congenial  one.  Gibbon  has  told  us  him- 
self of  the  many  periods  of  history  upon  which  he  tried 
his  pen,  even  after  the  memorable  15  October,  1764,  when 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


he  “ sate  musing  amid  the  ruins  of  the  Capitol,  while  the 
barefooted  friars  were  singing  vespers  in  the  temple  of 
Jupiter.”  We  know  how  many  sketches  of  possible 
tragedies  Racine  would  make  before  he  could  adopt  one 
as  the  appropriate  theme,  on  which  he  could  work  with 
that  thorough  enjoyment  of  the  labour,  which  is  necessary 
to  give  life  and  verve  to  any  creation,  whether  of  the  poet 
or  the  orator. 

The  leaves  of  the  Trinity  College  MS.,  which  are  con- 
temporary with  his  confidence  to  the  readers  of  his  tract 
Of  Church  Government , exhibit  a list  of  nearly  one  hun- 
dred subjects,  which  had  occurred  to  him  from  time  to  time 
as  practicable  subjects.  Eroni  the  mode  of  entry  we  see 
that,  already  in  1641,  a scriptural  was  likely  to  have  the 
preference  over  a profane  subject,  and  that  among  scriptural 
subjects  Paradise  Lost  (the  familiar  title  appears  in  this 
early  note),  stands  out  prominently  above  the  rest.  The 
historical  subjects  are  all  taken  from  native  history,  none 
«are  foreign,  and  all  are  from  the  time  before  the  Roman 
conquest.  The  scriptural  subjects  are  partly  from  the  Old, 
partly  from  the  'New,  Testament.  Some  of  these  subjects 
are  named  and  nothing  more,  while  others  are  slightly 
sketched  out.  Among  these  latter  are  Baptistes , on  the 
death  of  John  the  Baptist,  and  Christus  Patiens , apparently 
to  be  confined  to  the  agony  in  the  garden.  Of  Paradise 
Lost  there  are  four  drafts  in  greater  detail  than  any  of  the 
others.  These  drafts  of  the  plot  or  action,  though  none 
of  them  that  which  was  finally  adopted,  are  sufficiently 
near  to  the  action  of  the  poem  as  it  stands,  to  reveal  to  us 
the  fact  that  the  author’s  imaginative  conception  of  what 
he  intended  to  produce  was  generated,  cast,  and  moulded, 
at  a comparatively  early  age.  The  commonly  received 
notion,  therefore,  with  which  authors,  as  they  age,  are 




wont  to  comfort  themselves,  that  one  of  the  greatest  feats 
of  original  invention  achieved  by  man,  was  begun  after 
fifty,  must  be  thus  far  modified.  Paradise  Lost  was  com- 
posed after  fifty,  but  was  conceived  at  thirty-two.  Hence 
the  high  degree  of  perfection  realised  in  the  total  result. 
For  there  were  combined  to  produce  it  the  opposite  virtues 
of  two  distinct  periods  of  mental  development ; the  daring 
imagination  and  fresh  emotional  play  of  early  manhood, 
with  the  exercised  judgment  and  chastened  taste  of  ripened 
years.  We  have  regarded  the  twenty-five  years  of  Milton’s 
life  between  1641  and  the  commencement  of  Paradise 
Lost , as  time  ill  laid  out  upon  inferior  work  which  any 
one  could  do,  and  which  was  not  worth  doing  by  any  one. 
Yet  it  may  be  made  a question  if  in  any  other  mode  than 
by  adjournment  of  his  early  design,  Milton  could  have 
attained  to  that  union  of  original  strength  with  severe 
restraint,  which  distinguishes  from  all  other  poetry,  except 
that  of  Virgil,  the  three  great  poems  of  his  old  age.  If  the 
fatigue  of  age  is  sometimes  felt  in  Paradise  Regained , we 
feel  in  Paradise  Lost  only  (in  the  words  of  Chateaubriand), 
“ la  maturite  de  l’age  a travers  les  passions  des  legeres 
annees ; une  charme  extraordinaire  de  vieillesse  et  de 

A still  further  inference  is  warranted  by  the  Trinity 
College  jottings  of  1641.  'Not  the  critics  merely,  but 
readers  ready  to  sympathise,  have  been  sometimes  inclined 
to  wish  that  Milton  had  devoted  his  power  to  a more 
human  subject,  in  which  the  poet’s  invention  could  have 
had  freer  play,  and  for  wThich  his  reader’s  interest  could 
have  been  more  ready.  And  it  has  been  thought  that  the 
choice  of  a Biblical  subject  indicates  the  narrowing  effect 
of  age,  adversity,  and  blindness  combined.  We  now  know 
that  the  Fall  was  the  theme,  if  not  determined  on,  at 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660— 1674 


least  predominant  in  Milton’s  thoughts,  at  the  age  ol 
thirty- two.  His  ripened  judgment  only  approved  a 

selection  made  in  earlier  years,  and  in  days  full  of  hope. 
That  in  selecting  a scriptural  subject  he  was  not  in  fact 
exercising  any  choice,  hut  was  determined  by  his  circum- 
stances, is  only  what  must  be  said  of  all  choosing.  With 
all  his  originality,  Milton  was  still  a man  of  his  age.  A 
Puritan  poet,  in  a Puritan  environment,  could  not  have 
done  otherwise.  But  even  had  choice  been  in  his  power, 
it  is  doubtful  if  he  would  have  had  the  same  success  with 
a subject  taken  from  history. 

First,  looking  at  his  public.  He  was  to  write  in 
English.  This,  which  had  at  one  time  been  matter  of 
doubt,  had  at  an  early  stage  come  to  be  his  decision.  Hor 
had  the  choice  of  English  been  made  for  the  sake  of  popu- 
larity, which  he  despised.  He  did  not  desire  to  write  for 
the  many,  but  for  the  few.  But  he  was  enthusiastically 
patriotic.  He  had  entire  contempt  for  the  shouts  of  the 
mob,  but  the  English  nation,  as  embodied  in  the  persons 
of  the  wise  and  good,  he  honoured  and  reverenced  with  all 
the  depth  of  his  nature.  It  was  for  the  sake  of  his  nation 
that  he  was  to  devote  his  life  to  a work,  which  was  to 
ennoble  her  tongue  among  the  languages  of  Europe. 

He  was  then  to  write  in  English,  for  the  English,  not 
popularly,  but  nationally.  This  resolution  at  once  limited 
his  subject.  He  who  aspires  to  be  the  poet  of  a nation  is 
bound  to  adopt  a hero  who  is  already  dear  to  that  people, 
to  choose  a subject  and  characters  which  are  already 
familiar  to  them.  This  is  no  rule  of  literary  art 
arbitrarily  enacted  by  the  critics,  it  is  a dictate  of  reason, 
and  has  been  the  practice  of  all  the  great  national  poets. 
The  more  obvious  examples  will  occur  to  every  reader. 
But  it  may  be  observed  that  even  the  Greek  tragedians. 




who  addressed  a more  limited  audience  than  the  epic  poets, 
took  their  plots  from  the  best  known  legends  touching  the 
fortunes  of  the  royal  houses  of  the  Hellenic  race.  Now  to 
the  English  reader  of  the  seventeenth  century — and  the 
same  holds  good  to  this  day — there  were  only  two  cycles  of 
persons  and  events  sufficiently  known  beforehand  to  admit 
of  being  assumed  by  a poet.  He  must  go  either  to  the 
Bible,  or  to  the  annals  of  England.  Thus  far  Milton’s 
choice  of  subject  was  limited  by  the  consideration  of  the 
public  for  whom  he  wrote. 

Secondly,  he  was  still  farther  restricted  by  a condition 
which  the  nature  of  his  own  intelligence  imposed  upon 
himself.  It  was  necessary  for  Milton  that  the  events  and 
personages,  which  were  to  arouse  and  detain  his  interests, 
should  be  real  events  and  personages.  The  mere  play  of 
fancy  with  the  pretty  aspects  of  things  could  not  satisfy  him] 
he  wanted  to  feel  beneath  him  a substantial  world  of  reality. 
He  had  not  the  dramatist’s  imagination  which  can  body 
forth  fictitious  characters  with  such  life-like  reality  that  it 
can,  and  does  itself,  believe  in  their  existence.  Macaulay 
has  truly  said  that  Milton’s  genius  is  lyrical,  not  dramatic. 
His  lyre  will  only  echo  real  emotion,  and  his  imagination 
is  only  stirred  by  real  circumstances.  In  his  youth  he  had 
been  within  the  fascination  of  the  romances  of  chivalry,  as 
well  in  their  original  form,  as  in  the  reproductions  of 
Ariosto  and  Spenser.  While  under  this  influence  he  had 
thought  of  seeking  his  subject  among  the  heroes  of  these 
lays  of  old  minstrelsy.  And  as  one  of  his  principles  was 
that  his  hero  must  be  a national  hero,  it  was  of  course 
upon  the  Arthurian  cycle  that  his  aspiration  fixed.  When 
he  did  so,  he  no  doubt  believed  at  least  the  historical 
existence  of  Arthur.  As  soon,  however,  as  he  came  to 
understand  the  fabulous  basis  of  the  Arthurian  legend, 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


it  became  unfitted  for  his  use.  In  the  Trinity  College 
MS.  of  1641,  Arthur  has  already  disappeared  from  the  list 
of  possible  subjects,  a list  which  contains  thirty-eight  sug- 
gestions of  names  from  British  or  Saxon  history,  such  as 
Yortigern,  Edward  the  Confessor,  Harold,  Macbeth,  &c. 
While  he  demanded  the  basis  of  reality  for  his  person- 
ages, he  at  the  same  time,  with  a true  instinct,  rejected  all 
that  fell  within  the  period  of  well-ascertained  history.  He 
made  the  Conquest  the  lower  limit  of  his  choice.  In  this 
negative  decision  against  historical  romance  we  recognise 
Milton’s  judgment,  and  his  correct  estimate  of  his  own 
powers.  Those  who  have  been  thought  to  succeed  best  in 
engrafting  fiction  upon  history,  Shakspeare  or  Walter 
Scott,  have  been  eminently  human  poets,  and  have 
achieved  their  measure  of  success  by  investing  some  well- 
known  name  with  the  attributes  of  ordinary  humanity 
such  as  we  all  know  it.  This  was  precisely  what  Milton 
could  not  have  done.  He  had  none  of  that  sympathy  with 
which  Shakspeare  embraced  all  natural  and  common 
affections  of  his  brother  men.  Milton,  burning  as  he  did 
with  a consuming  fire  of  passion,  and  yearning  for  rapt 
communion  with  select  souls,  had  withal  an  aloofness  from 
ordinary  men  and  women,  and  a proud  disdain  of  common- 
place joy  and  sorrow,  which  has  led  hasty  biographers  and 
critics  to  represent  him  as  hard,  austere,  an  iron  man  of 
iron  mould.  This  want  of  interest  in  common  life  disquali- 
fied him  for  the  task  of  revivifying  historic  scenes. 

Milton’s  mental  constitution,  then,  demanded  in  the 
material  upon  which  it  was  to  work,  a combination  of 
qualities  such  as  very  few  subjects  could  offer.  The 
events  and  personages  must  be  real  and  substantial,  for  he 
could  not  occupy  himself  seriously  with  airy  nothings  and 




creatures  of  pure  fancy.  Yet  they  must  not  be  such 
events  and  personages  as  history  had  pourtrayed  to  us 
with  well-known  characters,  and  all  their  virtues,  faults, 
foibles,  and  peculiarities.  And,  lastly,  it  was  requisite 
that  they  should  he  the  common  property  and  the  familiar 
interest  of  a wide  circle  of  English  readers. 

These  being  the  conditions  required  in  the  subject,  it  is 
obvious  that  no  choice  was  left  to  the  poet  in  the  England 
of  the  seventeenth  century  but  a biblical  subject.  And 
among  the  many  picturesque  episodes  which  the  Hebrew 
Scriptures  present,  the  narrative  of  the  Eall  stands  out 
with  a character  of  all-embracing  comprehensiveness  which 
belongs  to  no  other  single  event  in  the  Jewish  annals. 
The  first  section  of  the  book  of  Genesis  clothes  in  a dra- 
matic form  the  dogmatic  idea  from  which  was  developed 
in  the  course  of  ages  the  whole  scheme  of  Judaico- 
Christian  anthropology.  In  this  world-drama,  Heaven 
above  and  Hell  beneath,  the  powers  of  light  and  those  of 
darkness,  are  both  brought  upon  the  scene  in  confiict  with 
each  other,  over  the  fate  of  the  inhabitants  of  our  globe, 
a minute  ball  of  matter  suspended  between  two  infinities. 
This  gigantic  and  unmanageable  material  is  so  completely 
mastered  by  the  poet’s  imagination,  that  we  are  made  to 
feel  at  one  and  the  same  time  the  petty  dimensions  of  our 
earth  in  comparison  with  primordial  space  and  almighty 
power,  and  the  profound  import  to  us  of  the  issue  depend  - 
ing on  the  conflict.  Other  poets,  of  inferior  powers,  have 
from  time  to  time  attempted,  with  different  degrees  of 
success,  some  of  the  minor  Scriptural  histories  ; Bodmer, 
the  Hoachian  Deluge;  Solomon  Gessner,  the  Death  of 
Abel,  &c.  And  Milton  himself,  after  he  had  spent  his 
full  strength  upon  his  greater  theme,  recurred  in  Samson 
Agonistes  to  one  such  episode,  which  he  had  deliberately 

17®  THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674.  [chap, 

set  aside  before,  as  not  giving  verge  enough  for  the  sweep 
of  his  soaring  conception. 

These  considerations  duly  weighed,  it  will  be  found 
that  the  subject  of  the  Fall  of  Man  was  not  so  much 
Milton’s  choice  as  his  necessity.  Among  all  the  traditions 
of  the  peoples  of  the  earth,  there  is  not  extant  another 
story  which  could  have  been  adequate  to  his  demands. 
Biographers  may  have  been  somewhat  misled  by  his 
speaking  of  himself  as  “ long  choosing  and  beginning 
late.”  He  did  not  begin  till  1658,  when  he  was 
already  fifty,  and  it  has  been  somewhat  hastily  inferred 
that  he  did  not  choose  till  the  date  at  which  he  began 
But,  as  we  have  seen,  he  had  already  chosen  at  least  as 
early  as  1642,  when  the  plan  of  a drama  on  the  subject, 
and  under  the  title,  of  Paradise  Lost  was  fully  developed. 
In  the  interval  between  1642  and  1658,  he  changed  the 
form  from  a drama  to  an  epic,  but  his  choice  remained 
unaltered.  And  as  the  address  to  the  sun  ( Paradise  Lost , 
iv.  32)  was  composed  at  the  earlier  of  these  dates,  it 
appears  that  he  had  already  formulated  even  the  rhythm 
and  cadence  of  the  poem  that  was  to  be.  Like  Words- 
worth’s “ Warrior  ” — * 

He  wrought 

Upon  the  plan  that  pleas’d  his  boyish  thought. 

I have  said  that  this  subject  of  the  Fall  was  Milton’s 
necessity,  being  the  only  subject  which  his  mind,  “in  the 
spacious  circuits  of  her  musing,”  found  large  enough. 
But  as  it  was  no  abrupt  or  arbitrary  choice,  so  it  was  not 
forced  upon  him  from  without,  by  suggestion  of  friends,  or 
command  of  a patron.  We  must  again  remind  ourselves 
that  Milton  had  a Calvinistic  bringing  up.  And  Cal- 
vinism in  pious  Puritan  souls  of  that  fervent  age  was  not 
the  attenuated  creed  of  the  eighteenth  century,  the  Cal- 
vinism which  went  not  beyond  personal  gratification  of 




safety  for  oneself,  and  for  the  rest  damnation.  When 
Milton  was  being  reared,  Calvinism  was  not  old  and  effete, 
a mere  doctrine.  It  was  a living  system  of  thought,  and 
one  which  carried  the  mind  upwards  towards  the  Eternal 
will,  rather  than  downwards  towards  my  personal  security. 
Keble  has  said  of  the  old  Catholic  views,  founded  on  sac- 
ramental symbolism,  that  they  are  more  poetical  than  any 
other  religious  conception.  But  it  must  he  acknowledged 
that  a predestinarian  scheme,  leading  the  cogitation  up- 
ward to  dwell  upon  “the  heavenly  things  before  the 
foundation  of  the  world, ” opens  a vista  of  contemplation 
and  poetical  framework,  with  which  none  other  in  the 
whole  cycle  of  human  thought  can  compare.  Not  election 
and  reprobation  as  set  out  in  the  petty  chicanery  of  Cal- 
vin’s Institutes , hut  the  prescience  of  absolute  wisdom 
revolving  all  the  possibilities  of  time,  space,  and  matter. 
Poetry  has  been  defined  as  “ the  suggestion  by  the  image 
of  noble  grounds  for  noble  emotions,”  and,  in  this  respect, 
none  of  the  world-epics— there  are  at  most  five  or  six  such 
in  existence — can  compete  with  Paradise  Lost  The 
melancholy  pathos  of  Lucretius  indeed  pierces  the  heart 
with  a two-edged  sword  more  keen  than  Milton’s,  but  the 
compass  of  Lucretius’  horizon  is  much  less,  being  limited 
to  this  earth  and  its  inhabitants.  The  horizon  of  Paradise 
Lost  is  not  narrower  than  all  space,  its  chronology  not 
shorter  than  eternity ; the  globe  of  our  earth  becomes  a 
mere  spot  in  the  physical  universe,  and  that  universe 
itself  a drop  suspended  in  the  infinite  empyrean.  His 
aspiration  had  thus  reached  “ one  of  the  highest  arcs  that 
human  contemplation  circling  upwards  can  make  from 
the  glassy  sea  whereon  she  stands”  ( Doctr . and  Disc .) 
Like  his  contemporary  Pascal,  his  mind  had  beaten  her 
wings  against  the  prison  walls  of  human  thought. 

The  vastness  of  the  scheme  of  Paradise  Lost  may 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674. 


become  more  apparent  to  us  if  we  remark  that,  within  its 
embrace,  there  seems  to  be  equal  place  for  both  the 
systems  of  physical  astronomy  which  were  current  in  the 
seventeenth  century.  In  England,  about  the  time  Para- 
dise Lost  was  being  written,  the  Copernican  theory,  which 
placed  the  sun.  in  the  centre  of  our  system,  was  already 
the  established  belief  of  the  few  well-informed.  The  old 
Ptolemaic  or  Alphonsine  system,  which  explained  the 
phenomena  on  the  hypothesis  of  nine  (or  ten)  transparent 
hollow  spheres  wheeling  round  the  stationary  earth,  was 
still  the  received  astronomy  of  ordinary  people.  These 
two  beliefs,  the  one  based  on  science,  though  still  wanting 
the  calculation  which  Newton  was  to  supply  to  make  it 
demonstrative,  the  other  supported  by  the  tradition  of 
ages,  were,  at  the  time  we  speak  of,  in  presence  of  each 
other  in  the  public  mind.  They  are  in  presence  of  each 
other  also  in  Milton’s  epic.  And  the  systems  confront 
each  other  in  the  poem,  in  much  the  same  relative  posi- 
tion which  they  occupied  in  the  mind  of  the  public.  The 
ordinary,  habitual  mode  of  speaking  of  celestial  pheno- 
mena is  Ptolemaic  (see  Paradise  Lost , vii.  339  ; iii.  481). 
The  conscious,  or  doctrinal,  exposition  of  the  same  pheno- 
mena is  Copernican  (see  Paradise  Lost,  viii.  122).  Sharp 
as  is  the  contrast  between  the  two  systems,  the  one  being 
the  direct  contradictory  of  the  other,  they  are  lodged 
together,  not  harmonised,  within  the  vast  circuit  of  the 
poet’s  imagination.  The  precise  mechanism  of  an  object 
so  little  as  is  our  world  in  comparison  with  the  immense 
totality  may  be  justly  disregarded.  “De  minimis  non 
curat  poeta.”  In  the  universe  of  being  the  difference 
between  a heliocentric  and  a geocentric  theory  of  our 
solar  system  is  of  as  small  moment,  as  the  reconcilement  of 
fixed  fate,  free-will,  foreknowledge  absolute  is  in  the 




realm  of  absolute  intelligence.  The  one  is  the  frivolous 
pastime  of  devils  ; the  other  the  Great  Architect 

Hath  left  to  their  disputes,  perhaps  to  move 
His  laughter  at  their  quaint  opinions  wide. 

As  one,  and  the  principal,  inconsistency  in  Milton’s 
presentment  of  his  matter  has  now  been  mentioned,  a 
general  remark  may  be  made  upon  the  conceptual  in- 
congruities in  Paradise  Lost.  The  poem  abounds  in  such, 
and  the  critics,  from  Addison  downwards,  have  busied 
themselves  in  finding  out  more  and  more  of  them.  Mil- 
ton’s geography  of  the  world  is  as  obscure  and  untenable 
as  that  of  Herodotus.  The  notes  of  time  cannot  stand 
together.  To  give  an  example  : Eve  says  ( Paradise  Lost , 
iv.  449) — 

That  day  I oft  remember,  when  from  sleep 
I first  awak’d. 

But  in  the  chronology  of  the  poem,  Adam  himself,  whose 
creation  preceded  that  of  Eve,  was  but  three  days  old  at 
the  time  this  reminiscence  is  repeated  to  him.  The  mode 
in  which  the  Son  of  God  is  spoken  of  is  not  either  con- 
sistent Athanasianism  or  consistent  Arianism.  Above 
all  there  is  an  incessant  confusion  of  material  and  im- 
material in  the  acts  ascribed  to  the  angels.  Dr.  J ohnson, 
who  wished  for  consistency,  would  have  had  it  preserved 
“ by  keeping  immateriality  out  of  sight.”  And  a general 
arraignment  has  been  laid  against  Milton  of  a vagueness 
and  looseness  of  imagery,  which  contrasts  unfavourably 
with  the  vivid  and  precise  detail  of  other  poets,  of 
Homer  or  of  Dante,  for  example. 

How  first,  it  must  be  said  that  Milton  is  not  one  of  the 
poets  of  inaccurate  imagination.  He  could  never,  like 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674. 


Scott,  have  let  tlie  precise  picture  of  the  swan  on  “ still 
Saint  Mary’s  lake  ” slip  into  the  namby-pamby  “ sweet 
Saint  Mary’s  lake.”  When  he  intends  a picture,  he  is 
unmistakably  distinct ; his  outline  is  firm  and  hard. 
But  he  is  not  often  intending  pictures.  He  is  not,  like 
Dante,  always  seeing — he  is  mostly  thinking  in  a dream, 
or  as  Coleridge  best  expressed  it,  he  is  not  a picturesque, 
but  a musical  poet.  The  pictures  in  Paradise  Lost  are 
like  the  paintings  on  the  walls  of  some  noble  hall — only 
part  of  the  total  magnificence.  He  did  not  aim  at  that 
finish  of  minute  parts  in  which  each  bit  fits  into  every 
other.  For  it  was  only  by  such  disregard  of  minutiae  that 
the  theme  could  be  handled  at  all.  The  impression  of 
vastness,  the  sense  that  everything,  as  Bishop  Butler  says, 
“ runs  up  into  infinity,”  would  have  been  impaired  if  he 
had  drawn  attention  to  the  details  of  his  figures.  Had  he 
had  upon  his  canvas  only  a single  human  incident,  with 
ordinary  human  agents,  he  would  have  known,  as  well  as 
other  far  inferior  artists,  how  to  secure  perfection  of  illu- 
sion by  exactness  of  detail.  But  he  had  undertaken  to 
present,  not  the  world  of  human  experience,  but  a super- 
natural world,  peopled  by  supernatural  beings,  God  and 
his  Son,  angels  and  archangels,  devils  ; a world  in  which 
Sin  and  Death  may  be  personified  without  palpable 
absurdity.  Even  his  one  human  pair  are  exceptional 
beings,  from  whom  we  are  prepared  not  to  demand  con- 
formity to  the  laws  of  life  which  now  prevail  in  our 
world.  Had  he  presented  all  these  spiritual  personages 
in  definite  form  to  the  eye,  the  result  would  have  been 
degradation.  We  should  have  had  the  ridiculous  instead 
of  the  sublime,  as  in  the  scene  of  the  Iliad , where  Diomede 
wounds  Aphrodite  in  the  hand,  and  sends  her  crying  home 
to  her  father.  Once  or  twice  Milton  has  ventured  too 




near  the  limit  of  material  adaptation,  trying  to  explain 
how  angelic  natures  subsist,  as  in  the  passage  ( Paradise 
Lost , y.  405)  where  Raphael  tells  Adam  that  angels  eat 
and  digest  food  like  man.  Taste  here  receives  a shock, 
because  the  incongruity,  which  before  was  latent,  is  forced 
upon  our  attention.  We  are  threatened  with  being  trans- 
ported out  of  the  conventional  world  of  Heaven,  Hell, 
Chaos,  and  Paradise,  to  which  we  had  well  adapted  our- 
selves, into  the  real  world  in  which  we  know  that  such 
beings  could  not  breathe  and  move. 

Por  the  world  of  Paradise  Lost  is  an  ideal,  conventional 
world,  quite  as  much  as  the  world  of  the  Arabian  Nights , 
or  the  world  of  the  chivalrous  romance,  or  that  of  the 
pastoral  novel.  Hot  only  dramatic,  but  ail,  poetry  is 
founded  on  illusion.  We  must,  though  it  be  but  for  the 
moment,  suppose  it  true.  We  must  be  transported  out  of 
the  actual  world  into  that  world  in  which  the  given  scene 
is  laid.  It  is  chiefly  the  business  of  the  poet  to  effect  this 
transportation,  but  the  reader  (or  hearer)  must  aid.  “ Willst 
du  Dichter  ganz  verstehen,  musst  in  Dichter’s  Lande 
gehen.”  If  the  reader’s  imagination  is  not  active  enough 
to  assist  the  poet,  he  must  at  least  not  resist  him.  When 
we  are  once  inside  the  poet’s  heaven,  our  critical  faculty 
may  justly  require  that  what  takes  place  there  shall  be 
consistent  with  itself*,  with  the  laws  of  that  fantastic 
world.  But  we  may  not  begin  by  objecting  that  it  is 
impossible  that  such  a world  should  exist.  If,  in  any 
age,  the  power  of  imagination  is  enfeebled,  the  reader 
becomes  more  unable  to  make  this  effort ; he  ceases  to 
co-operate  with  the  poet.  Much  of  the  criticism  on  Para- 
dise Lost  which  we  meet  with  resolves  itself  into  a refusal 
on  the  part  of  the  critic,  to  make  that  initial  abondonment 
to  the  conditions  which  the  poet  demands ; a determina- 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


tion  to  insist  that  his  heaven,  peopled  with  deities,  domi- 
nations,  principalities,  and  powers,  shall  have  the  same 
material  laws  which  govern  our  planetary  system.  It  is 
not,  as  we  often  hear  it  said,  that  the  critical  faculty  is 
unduly  developed  in  the  nineteenth  century.  It  is  that 
the  imaginative  faculty  fails  us  ; and  when  that  is  the 
case,  criticism  is  powerless — it  has  no  fundamental  as- 
sumption upon  which  its  judgments  can  proceed. 

It  is  the  triumph  of  Milton's  skill  to  have  made  his 
ideal  world  actual,  if  not  to  every  English  mind's  eye,  yet 
to  a larger  number  of  minds  than  have  ever  been  reached 
by  any  other  poetry  in  our  language.  Popular  (in  the 
common  use  of  the  word)  Milton  has  not  been,  and  cannot 
be.  But  the  world  he  created  has  taken  possession  of 
the  public  mind.  Huxley  complains  that  the  false 
cosmogony,  which  will  not  yield  to  the  conclusions  of 
scientific  research,  is  derived  from  the  seventh  book  of 
Paradise  Lost , rather  than  from  Genesis.  This  success 
Milton  owes  partly  to  his  selection  of  his  subject,  partly 
to  his  skill  in  handling  it.  In  his  handling,  he  presents 
his  spiritual  existences  with  just  so  much  relief  as  to 
endow  them  with  life  and  personality,  and  not  with  that 
visual  distinctness  which  would  at  once  reveal  their 
spectral  immateriality,  and  so  give  a shock  to  the  illusion. 
We  might  almost  say  of  his  personages  that  they  are 
shapes,  “ if  shape  it  might  be  called,  that  shape  had 
none."  By  his  art  of  suggestion  by  association,  he  does 
all  he  can  to  aid  us  to  realise  his  agents,  and  at  the 
moment  when  distinctness  would  disturb,  he  withdraws 
the  object  into  a mist,  and  so  disguises  the  incongruities 
which  he  could  not  avoid.  The  tact  that  avoids 
difficulties  inherent  in  the  nature  of  things,  is  an  art 
which  gets  the  least  appreciation  either  in  life  or  in  litera- 




ture.  But  if  we  would  have  some  measure  of  the  skill 
which  in  Paradise  Lost  ha3  made  impossible  beings 
possible  to  the  imagination,  we  may  find  it  in  contrasting 
them  with  the  incarnated  abstraction  and  spirit  voices, 
which  we  encounter  at  every  turn  in  Shelley,  creatures 
who  leave  behind  them  no  more  distinct  impression  than 
that  we  have  been  in  a dream  peopled  with  ghosts. 
Shelley,  too, 

Voyag’d  fch’  unreal,  vast,  unbounded  deep 

Of  horrible  conf  usion. 

Paradise  Lost,  x„  470. 

and  left  it  the  chaos  which  he  found  it.  Milton  has 
elicited  from  similar  elements  a conception  so  life-like 
that  his  poetical  version  has  inseparably  grafted  itself  upon, 
if  it  has  not  taken  the  place  of,  the  historical  narrative  of 
the  original  creation. 

So  much  Milton  has  effected  by  his  skilful  treatment. 
But  the  illusion  was  greatly  facilitated  by  his  choice  of 
subject.  He  had  not  to  create  his  supernatural  personages, 
they  were  already  there.  The  Father,  and  the  Son,  the 
Angels,  Satan,  Baal  and  Moloch,  Adam  and  Eve,  were  in 
full  possession  of  the  popular  imagination,  and  more 
familiar  to  it  than  any  other  set  of  known  names.  Hor 
was  the  belief  accorded  to  them  a half  belief,  a bare  ad- 
mission of  their  possible  existence,  such  as  prevails  at 
other  times  or  in  some  countries.  In  the  England  of 
Milton,  the  angels  and  devils  of  the  Jewish  Scriptures  were 
more  real  beings,  and  better  vouched,  than  any  historical 
personages  could  be.  The  old  chronicles  were  full  of  lies, 
but  this  was  Bible  truth.  There  might  very  likely  have 
been  a Henry  VIII.,  and  he  might  have  been  such  as  he 
is  described,  but  at  any  rate  he  was  dead  and  gone,  while 

186  THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674,  [chap* 

Satan  still  lived  and  walked  the  earth,  the  identical  Satan 
who  had  deceived  Eve. 

Nor  was  it  only  to  the  poetic  public  that  his  personages 
were  real,  true,  and  living  beings.  The  poet  himself  be- 
lieved as  entirely  in  their  existence  as  did  his  readers.  I 
insist  upon  this  point,  because  one  of  the  first  of  living 
critics  has  declared  of  Paradise  Lost  that  it  is  a poem  in 
which  every  artifice  of  invention  is  consciously  employed, 
not  a single  fact  being,  for  an  instant,  conceived  as  tenable 
by  any  living  faith.  (Ruskin,  Sesame  and  Lilies , p.  138). 
On  the  contrary,  we  shall  not  rightly  apprehend  either  the 
poetry  or  the  character  of  the  poet  until  we  feel  that 
throughout  Paradise  Lost , as  in  Paradise  Regained  and 
Samson , Milton  felt  himself  to  be  standing  on  the  sure 
ground  of  fact  and  reality.  It  was  not  in  Milton's  nature 
to  be  a showman,  parading  before  an  audience  a phantas- 
magoria of  spirits,  which  he  himself  knew  to  be  puppets 
tricked  up  for  the  entertainment  of  an  idle  hour.  We  are 
told  by  Lockhart,  that  the  old  man  who  told  the  story  of 
Gilpin  Horner  to  Lady  Dalkeith  bona  fide  believed  the 
existence  of  the  elf.  Lady  Dalkeith  repeated  the  tale  to 
Walter  Scott,  who  worked  it  up  with  consummate  skill 
into  the  Lay  of  the  Last  Minstrel . This  is  a case  of  a 
really  believed  legend  of  diablerie  becoming  the  source  of 
a literary  fiction.  Scott  neither  believed  in  the  reality  of 
the  goblin  page  himself,  nor  expected  his  readers  to  believe 
it.  He  could  not  rise  beyond  the  poetry  of  amusement, 
and  no  poetry  with  only  this  motive  can  ever  be  more  than 
literary  art. 

Other  than  this  was  Milton's  conception  of  his  own 
function.  Of  the  fashionable  verse,  such  as  was  written 
in  the  Caroline  age,  or  in  any  age,  he  disapproved,  not  only 
because  it  was  imperfect  art,  but  because  it  was  untrue 




utterance.  Poems  that  were  raised  “from  the  heat  of 
youth,  or  the  vapours  of  wine,  like  that  which  flows  at 
waste  from  the  pen  of  some  vulgar  amourist,  or  the 
trencher  fury  of  a rhyming  parasite/’  were  in  his  eyes 
treachery  to  the  poet’s  high  vocation. 

Poetical  powers  “ are  the  inspired  gift  of  God  rarely  bestowed 
...  in  every  nation,  and  are  of  power,  beside  the  office  of  a pulpit, 
to  imbreed  and  cherish  in  a great  people  the  seeds  of  virtue  and 
public  civility,  to  allay  the  perturbation  of  the  mind,  and  set  the 
affections  in  right  tune ; to  celebrate  in  glorious  and  lofty 
hymns  the  throne  and  equipage  of  God’s  almightiness,  and  what 
he  works,  and  what  he  suffers  to  be  wrought  with  high  providence 
in  his  church ; to  sing  victorious  agonies  of  martyrs  and  saints, 
the  deeds  and  triumphs  of  just  and  pious  nations,  doing  valiantly 
through  faith  against  the  enemies  of  Christ ; to  deplore  the 
general  relapses  of  kingdoms  and  states  from  justice  and  God’s 
true  worship.” 

So  he  had  written  in  1642,  and  this  lofty  faith  in  his 
calling  supported  him  twenty  years  later,  in  the  arduous 
labour  of  his  attempt  to  realise  his  own  ideal.  In  setting 
himself  down  to  compose  Paradise  Lost  and  Regained , he 
regarded  himself  not  as  an  author,  but  as  a medium, 
the  mouthpiece  of  “ that  eternal  Spirit  who  can  enrich 
with  all  utterance  and  all  knowledge  : Urania,  heavenly 
muse,”  visits  him  nightly, 

And  dictates  to  me  slumb’ring,  or  inspires 
Easy  my  unpremeditated  verse. 

Paradise  Lost,  ix.  24. 

Urania  bestows  the  flowing  words  and  musical  sweetness  : 
to  God’s  Spirit  he  looks  to 

Shine  inward,  and  the  mind  through  all  her  powers 
Irradiate,  there  plant  eyes,  all  mist  from  thence 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1680-1674. 


Purge  and  disperse,  that  I may  see  and  tell 
Of  things  invisible  to  mortal  sight. 

Paradise  Lost}  iii.  60. 

The  singers  with  whom  he  would  fain  equal  himself  are 
not  Dante,  or  Tasso,  or,  as  Dryden  would  have  it,  Spenser, 

Blind  Thamyris,  and  blind  Mseonides, 

And  Tiresias  and  Phineus,  prophets  old. 

&s  he  is  equalled  with  these  in  misfortune — loss  of  sight 
— he  would  emulate  them  in  function.  Orpheus  and 
Musasus  are  the  poets  he  would  fain  have  as  the  com- 
panions of  his  midnight  meditation  ( Penseroso ).  And 
the  function  of  the  poet  is  like  that  of  the  prophet  in  the 
old  dispensation,  not  to  invent,  but  to  utter.  It  is  God's 
truth  which  passes  his  lips — lips  hallowed  by  the  touch 
of  sacred  fire.  He  is  the  passive  instrument  through 
whom  flows  the  emanation  from  on  high ; his  words  are 
not  his  own,  but  a suggestion.  Even  for  style  Milton  is 
indebted  to  his  “ celestial  patroness  who  deigns  her 
nightly  visitation  unimplor’cL” 

Milton  was  not  dependent  upon  a dubious  tradition  in 
the  subject  he  had  selected.  Man’s  fall  and  recovery  were 
recorded  in  the  Scriptures.  And  the  two  media  of  truth, 
the  internal  and  the  external,  as  deriving  from  the  same 
source,  must  needs  be  in  harmony.  That  the  Spirit  en- 
lightens the  mind  within,  in  this  belief  the  Puritan  saint, 
the  poet,  and  the  prophet,  who  all  met  in  Milton,  were  at 
one.  That  the  Old  Testament  Scriptures  were  also  a reve- 
lation from  God,  was  an  article  of  faith  which  he  had  never 
questioned.  Nor  did  he  only  receive  these  books  as  con- 
veying in  substance  a divine  view  of  the  world’s  history, 
he  regarded  them  as  in  the  letter  a transcript  of  fact. 




If  the  poet-prophet  would  tell  the  story  of  creation  or 
redemption,  he  was  thus  restrained  not  only  by  the  genera] 
outline  and  imagery  of  the  Bible,  hut  by  its  very  words. 
And  here  we  must  note  the  skill  of  the  poet  in  surmount- 
ing an  added  or  artificial  difficulty,  in  the  subject  he  had 
chosen  as  combined  with  his  notion  of  inspiration.  He 
must  not  deviate  in  a single  syllable  from  the  words  of 
the  Hebrew  books.  He  must  take  up  into  his  poem  the 
whole  of  the  sacred  narrative.  This  he  must  do,  not 
merely  because  his  readers  would  expect  such  literal 
accuracy  from  him,  but  because  to  himself  that  narrative 
was  the  very  truth  which  he  was  undertaking  to  deliver. 
The  additions  which  his  fancy  or  inspiration  might  supply 
must  be  restrained  by  this  severe  law,  that  they  should  be 
such  as  to  aid  the  reader’s  imagination  to  conceive  how 
the  event  took  place.  They  must  by  no  means  be  suffered 
to  alter,  disfigure,  traduce  the  substance  or  the  letter  of  the 
revelation.  This  is  what  Milton  has  done.  He  has  told 
the  story  of  creation  in  the  very  words  of  Scripture. 
The  whole  of  the  seventh  book,  is  little  more  than  a 
paraphrase  of  a few  verses  of  Genesis.  What  he  has 
added  is  so  little  incongruous  with  his  original,  that 
most  English  men  and  women  would  probably  have 
some  difficulty  in  discriminating  in  recollection  the  part 
they  derive  from  Moses,  from  that  which  they  have  added 
from  the  paraphrast.  In  Genesis  it  is  the  serpent  who 
tempts  Eve,  in  virtue  of  his  natural  wiliness.  In  Milton 
it  is  Satan  who  has  entered  into  the  body  of  a serpent, 
and  supplied  the  intelligence.  Here  indeed  Milton  was 
only  adopting  a gloss,  as  ancient  at  least  as  the  Book  of 
Wisdom  (ii.  24).  But  it  is  the  gloss,  and  not  the  text  of 
Moses,  which  is  in  possession  of  our  minds,  and  who  has 
done  most  to  lodge  it  there,  Milton  or  the  commentators  ? 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


Again,  it  is  Milton  and  not  Moses  who  makes  the  serpent 
pluck  and  eat  the  first  apple  from  the  tree.  But  Bp* 
Wilson  comments  upon  the  words  of  Genesis  (iii.  6)  as 
though  they  contained  this  purely  Miltonic  circumstance. 

It  could  hardly  hut  he  that  one  oi  two  of  the  incidents 
whicli  Milton  has  supplied,  the  popular  imagination  has 
been  unable  to  homologate.  Such  an  incident  is  the 
placing  of  artillery  in  the  wars  in  heaven.  We  reject 
this  suggestion,  and  find  it  mars  probability.  But  it 
would  not  seem  so  improbable  to  Milton’s  contemporaries, 
not  only  because  it  was  an  article  of  the  received  poetic 
tradition  (see  Ronsard  6,  p.  40),  but  also  because  fire-arms 
had  not  quite  ceased  to  be  regarded  as  a devilish  enginery 
of  a new  warfare,  unfair  in  the  knightly  code  of  honour, 
a base  substitute  of  mechanism  for  individual  valour.  It 
was  gunpowder  and  not  Don  Quixote  which  had  destroyed 
the  age  of  chivalry. 

Another  of  Milton’s  fictions  which  has  been  found 
too  grotesque  is  the  change  (P.  L.,  x.  508)  of  the  demons 
into  serpents,  who  hiss  their  Prince  on  his  return  from  his 
embassy.  Here  it  is  not,  I think,  so  much  the  unnatural 
character  of  the  incident  itself,  as  its  gratuitousness 
which  offends.  It  does  not  help  us  to  conceive  the 
situation.  A suggestion  of  Chateaubriand  may  therefore 
go  some  way  towards  reconciling  the  reader  even  to  this 
caprice  of  imagination.  It  indicates,  he  says,  the  degra- 
dation of  Satan,  who,  from  the  superb  Intelligence  of  the 
early  scenes  of  the  poem,  is  become  at  its  close  a hideous 
reptile.  He  has  not  triumphed,  but  has  failed,  and  is 
degraded  into  the  old  dragon,  who  haunts  among  the 
damned.  The  bruising  of  his  head  has  already  com- 

The  bridge,  again,  which  Sin  and  Death  construct 

xiii.]  PARADISE  REGAINED.  191 

(Paradise  Lost , x.  300),  leading  from  the  mouth  of  hell 
to  the  wall  of  the  world,  has  a chilling  effect  upon  the 
imagination  of  a modern  reader.  It  does  not  assist  the 
conception  of  the  cosmical  system  which  we  accept  in  the 
earlier  hooks.  This  clumsy  fiction  seems  more  at  home 
in  the  grotesque  and  lawless  mythology  of  the  Turks,  or 
in  the  Persian  poet  Sadi,  who  is  said  by  Marmontel  to 
have  adopted  it  from  the  Turk.  If  Milton's  intention 
were  to  reproduce  Jacob's  ladder,  he  should,  like  Dante 
(Farad,  xxi.  25),  have  made  it  the  means  of  commu- 
nication between  heaven  and  earth. 

It  is  possible  that  Milton  himself,  after  the  experiment 
of  Paradise  Lost  was  fully  before  him,  suspected  that  he 
had  supplemented  too  much  for  his  purpose;  that  his 
imagery,  which  was  designed  to  illustrate  history,  might 
stand  in  its  light.  For  in  the  composition  of  Paradise 
Regained  (published  1671)  he  has  adopted  a much  severer 
style.  In  this  poem  he  has  not  only  curbed  his  imagi- 
nation, but  has  almost  suppressed  it.  He  has  amplified, 
but  has  hardly  introduced  any  circumstance  which  is  not 
in  the  original.  Paradise  Regained  is  little  more  than  a 
paraphrase  of  the  Temptation  as  found  in  the  synoptical 
gospels.  It  is  a marvel  of  ingenuity  that  more  than  two 
thousand  lines  of  blank  verse  can  have  been  constructed 
out  of  some  twenty  lines  of  prose,  without  the  addition  of 
any  invented  incident,  or  the  insertion  of  any  irrelevant 
digression.  In  the  first  three  books  of  Paradise  Regained 
there  is  not  a single  simile.  Hor  yet  can  it  be  said  that 
the  version  of  the  gospel  narrative  has  the  fault  of  most 
paraphrases,  viz.,  that  of  weakening  the  effect,  and  ob- 
literating the  chiselled  features  of  the  original.  Let  a 
reader  take  Paradise  Regained  not  as  a theme  used  as  a 
canvas  for  poetical  embroidery,  an  opportunity  for  an  author 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


to  show  off  his  powers  of  writing,  hut  as  a bond  fide  attempt 
to  impress  upon  the  mind  the  story  of  the  Temptation, 
and  he  will  acknowledge  the  concealed  art  of  the  genuine 
epic  poet,  bent  before  all  things  upon  telling  his  tale.  It 
will  still  be  capable  of  being  alleged  that  the  story  told 
does  not  interest;  that  the  composition  is  dry,  hard, 
barren  ; the  style  as  of  set  purpose  divested  of  the  attri- 
butes of  poetry.  It  is  not  necessary  indeed  that  an  epic 
should  be  in  twelve  boobs;  but  we  do  demand  in  an 
epic  poem  multiplicity  of  character  and  variety  of  in- 
cident. In  Paradise  Regained  there  are  only  two  per- 
sonages, both  of  whom  are  supernatural  Indeed,  they 
can  scarcely  be  called  personages ; the  poet,  in  his  fidelity 
to  the  letter,  not  having  thought  fit  to  open  up  the  fertile 
vein  of  delineation  which  was  afforded  by  the  human 
character  of  Christ.  The  speakers  are  no  more  than  the 
abstract  principles  of  good  and  evil,  two  voices  who  hold 
a rhetorical  disputation  through  four  books  and  two 
thousand  lines. 

The  usual  explanation  of  the  frigidity  of  Paradise  Re- 
gained is  the  suggestion,  which  is  nearest  at  hand,  viz., 
that  it  is  the  effect  of  age.  Like  Ben  Jonson’s  New  Inn} 
it  betrays  the  feebleness  of  senility,  and  has  one  of  the 
most  certain  marks  of  that  stage  of  authorship,  the 
attempt  to  imitate  himself  in  those  points  in  which  he 
was  once  strong.  When  u glad  no  more,  He  wears  a face 
of  joy,  because  He  has  been  glad  of  yore.”  Or  it  is  an 
“ oeuvre  de  lassitude,”  a continuation,  with  the  inevitable 
defect  of  continuations,  that  of  preserving  the  forms  and 
wanting  the  soul  of  the  original,  like  the  second  parts  oi 
Faust , of  Don  Quixote , and  of  so  many  other  books. 

Both  these  explanations  of  the  inferiority  of  Paradise 
Regained  have  probability.  Either  of  them  may  be  true, 




or  both  may  have  concurred  to  the  common  effect.  In 
favour  of  the  hypothesis  of  senility  is  the  fact,  recorded 
by  Phillips,  that  Milton  “ could  not  hear  with  patience 
any  such  thing  when  related  to  him.”  The  reader  will 
please  to  note  that  this  is  the  original  statement,  which 
the  critics  have  improved  into  the  statement  that  he 
preferred  Paradise  Regained  to  Paradise  Lost . But 

his  approval  of  his  work,  even  if  it  did  not  amount  to 
preference,  looks  like  the  old  man’s  fondness  for  his 
youngest  and  weakest  offspring. 

Another  view  of  the  matter,  however,  i3  at  least 
possible.  Milton's  theory  as  to  the  true  mode  of 
handling  a biblical  subject  was,  as  I have  said,  to  add 
no  more  dressing,  or  adventitious  circumstance,  than 
should  assist  the  conception  of  the  sacred  verity.  After 
he  had  executed  Paradise  Lost , the  suspicion  arose  that 
he  had  been  too  indulgent  to  his  imagination  ; that  he 
had  created  too  much.  He  would  make  a second  experi- 
ment, in  which  he  would  enforce  his  theory  with  more 
vigour.  In  the  composition  of  Paradise  Lost  he  must 
have  experienced  that  the  constraint  he  imposed  upon 
himself  had  generated,  as  was  said  of  Racine,  “ a pleni- 
tude of  soul.”  He  might  infer  that  were  the  compression 
carried  still  further,  the  reaction  of  the  spirit  might  be 
still  increased.  Poetry  he  had  said  long  before  should  be 
“ simple,  sensuous,  impassioned  ” ( Tractate  of  Education). 
Nothing  enhances  passion  like  simplicity.  So  in  Paradise 
Regained  Milton  has  carried  simplicity  of  dress  to  the  verge 
of  nakedness.  It  is  probably  the  most  unadorned  poem 
extant  in  any  language.  He  has  pushed  severe  abstinence 
to  the  extreme  point,  possibly  beyond  the  point,  where  a 
reader’s  power  is  stimulated  by  the  poet/s  parsimony. 

It  may  elucidate  the  intention  of  the  author  of  Para - 



THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


dise  Regained , if  we  contrast  it  for  a moment  with  a poem 
constructed  upon  the  opposite  principle,  that,  viz.,  of  the 
maximum  of  adornment.  Claudian’s  Rape  of  Proserpine 
(a.d.  400)  is  one  of  the  most  rich  and  elaborate  poems 
ever  written.  It  has  in  common  with  Milton  the  cir- 
cumstance that  its  whole  action  is  contained  in  a solitary 
event,  viz.,  the  carrying  off  of  Proserpine  from  the  vale  of 
Henna  by  Pluto.  All  the  personages,  too,  are  super- 
human ; and  the  incident  itself  supernatural.  Claudian’s 
ambition  was  to  overlay  his  story  with  the  gold  and 
jewellery  of  expression  and  invention.  Nothing  is 
named  without  being  carved,  decked,  and  coloured  from 
the  inexhaustible  resources  of  the  poet’s  treasury.  This  is 
not  done  with  ostentatious  pomp,  as  the  hyperbolical 
heroes  of  vulgar  novelists  are  painted,  but  always  with 
taste,  which  though  lavish  is  discriminating. 

Milton,  like  Wordsworth,  urged  his  theory  of  parsi- 
mony further  in  practice  than  he  would  have  done,  had 
he  not  been  possessed  by  a spirit  of  protest  against  pre- 
vailing error.  Milton’s  own  ideal  was  the  chiselled 
austerity  of  Greek  tragedy.  But  he  was  impelled  to 
overdo  the  system  of  holding  back,  by  his  desire  to  chal- 
lenge the  evil  spirit  which  was  abroad.  He  would  sepa- 
rate himself  not  only  from  the  Clevelands,  the  Denhams, 
and  the  Drydens,  whom  he  did  not  account  as  poets  at 
all,  but  even  from  the  Spenserians.  Thus,  instead  of 
severe,  he  became  rigid,  and  his  plainness  is  not  un- 
frequently  jejune. 

“ Pomp  and  ostentation  of  reading,”  he  had  once 
written,  “ is  admired  among  the  vulgar ; but,  in  matters 
of  religion,  he  is  learnedest  who  is  plainest.”  As  Words- 
worth had  attempted  to  regenerate  poetry  by  recurring  to 
nature  and  to  common  objects,  Milton  would  revert  to 




the  pure  Word  of  God.  He  would  present  no  human 
adumbration  of  goodness,  but  Christ  Himself.  He  saw 
that  here  absolute  plainness  was  best.  In  the  presence 
of  this  unique  Being  silence  alone  became  the  poet.  This 
“ higher  argument  ” was  “ sufficient  of  itself  ” ( Paradise 
Lost , ix.  42). 

There  are  some  painters  whose  work  appeals  only  to 
painters,  and  not  to  the  public.  So  the  judgment  of 
poets  and  critics  has  been  more  favourable  to  Paradise 
Regained  than  the  opinion  of  the  average  reader.  John- 
son thinks  that  “ if  it  had  been  written,  not  by  Milton, 
but  by  some  imitators,  it  would  receive  universal  praise.” 
Wordsworth  thought  it  “ the  most  perfect  in  execution  of 
anything  written  by  Milton.”  And  Coleridge  says  of  it, 
“ in  its  kind  it  is  the  most  perfect  poem  extant.” 

There  is  a school  of  critics  which  maintains  that  a poem 
is,  like  a statue  or  a picture,  a work  of  pure  art,  of  which 
beauty  is  the  only  characteristic  of  which  the  reader 
should  be  cognisant.  And  beauty  is  wholly  ideal,  an  abso- 
lute quality,  out  of  relation  to  person,  time,  or  circum- 
stance. To  such  readers  Samson  Agonistes  will  seem  tame, 
hat,  meaningless,  and  artificial.  From  the  point  of  view  of 
the  critic  of  the  eighteenth  century,  it  is  “ a tragedy  which 
only  ignorance  would  admire  and  bigotry  applaud  ” (Dr. 
Johnson).  If,  on  the  other  hand,  it  be  read  as  a page  of 
cotemporary  history,  it  becomes  human,  pregnant  with  real 
woe,  the  record  of  an  heroic  soul,  not  baffled  by  temporary 
adversity,  but  totally  defeated  by  an  irreversible  fate,  and 
unflinchingly  accepting  the  situation,  in  the  firm  con- 
viction of  the  righteousness  of  the  causa  If  fiction  is 
truer  than  fact,  fact  is  more  tragic  than  fiction.  In  the 
course  of  the  long  struggle  of  human  liberty  against  the 

196  THIRD  PERIOD.  1660— 1674.  [chap. 

church,  there  had  been  terrible  catastrophes.  But  the  St. 
Bartholomew,  the  Revocation  of  the  Edict,  the  Spanish 
Inquisition,  the  rule  of  Alva  in  the  Low  Countries, — these 
and  other  days  of  suffering  and  rebuke  have  been  left  to 
the  dull  pen  of  the  annalist,  who  has  variously  diluted 
their  story  in  his  literary  circumlocution  office.  The 
triumphant  royalist  reaction  of  1660,  when  the  old  ser- 
pent bruised  the  heel  of  freedom  by  totally  crushing 
Puritanism,  is  singular  in  this,  that  the  agonised  cry  of 
the  beaten  party  has  been  preserved  in  a cotemporary 
monument,  the  intensest  utterance  of  the  most  intense  of 
English  poets— the  Samson  Agonistes . 

In  the  covert  representation,  which  we  have  in  this 
drama,  of  the  actual  wreck  of  Milton,  his  party,  and  his 
cause,  is  supplied  that  real  basis  of  truth  which  was 
necessary  to  inspire  him  to  write.  It  is  of  little  moment 
that  the  incidents  of  Samson’s  life  do  not  form  a strict 
parallel  to  those  of  Milton’s  life,  or  to  the  career  of  the 
Puritan  cause.  The  resemblance  lies  in  the  sentiment 
and  situation,  not  in  the  bare  event.  The  glorious  youth 
of  the  consecrated  deliverer,  his  signal  overthrow  of  the 
Philistine  foe  with  means  so  inadequate  that  the  hand  of 
God  was  manifest  in  the  victory ; his  final  humiliation, 
which  he  owed  to  his  own  weakness  and  disobedience,  and 
the  present  revelry  and  feasting  of  the  uncircumcised  Philis- 
tines in  the  temple  of  their  idol, — all  these  things  together 
constitute  a parable  of  which  no  reader  of  Milton’s  day 
could  possibly  mistake  the  interpretation.  More  obscurely 
adumbrated  is  the  day  of  vengeance,  when  virtue  should 
return  to  the  repentant  backslider,  and  the  idolatrous 
crew  should  be  smitten  with  a swift  destruction  in  the 
midst  of  their  insolent  revelry.  Add  to  these  the  two 
great  personal  misfortunes  of  the  poet’s  life,  his  first 




marriage  with  a Philistine  woman,  out  of  sympathy  with 
him  or  his  cause,  and  his  blindness ; and  the  basis  of 
reality  becomes  so  complete,  that  the  nominal  personages 
of  the  drama  almost  disappear  behind  the  history  which 
we  read  through  them. 

But  while  for  the  biographer  of  Milton  Samson 
Agonistes  is  charged  with  a pathos,  which  as  the  ex- 
pression of  real  suffering  no  Active  tragedy  can  equal,  it 
must  be  felt  that  as  a composition  the  drama  is  languid, 
nerveless,  occasionally  halting,  never  brilliant.  If  the 
date  of  the  composition  of  the  Samson  be  1663,  this  may 
have  been  the  result  of  weariness  after  the  effort  of 
Paradise  Lost.  If  this  drama  were  composed  in  1667, 
it  would  be  the  author’s  last  poetical  effort,  and  the 
natural  explanation  would  then  be  that  his  power  over 
language  was  failing.  The  power  of  metaphor,  i.  e.  of 
indirect  expression,  is,  according  to  Aristotle,  the  cha- 
racteristic of  genius.  It  springs  from  vividness  of  con 
ception  of  the  thing  spoken  of.  It  is  evident  that  this 
intense  action  of  the  presentative  faculty  is  no  longer  at 
the  disposal  of  the  writer  of  Samson.  In  Paradise  Re- 
gained we  are  conscious  of  a purposed  restraint  of  strength. 
The  simplicity  of  its  style  is  an  experiment,  an  essay  of  a 
new  theory  of  poetic  words.  The  simplicity  of  Samson 
Agonistes  is  a flagging  of  the  forces,  a drying  up  of  the 
rich  sources  from  which  had  once  flowed  the  golden  stream 
of  suggestive  phrase  which  makes  Paradise  Lost  a unique 
monument  of  the  English  language.  I could  almost  fancy 
that  the  consciousness  of  decay  utters  itself  in  the  lines 

I feel  my  genial  spirits  droop, 

My  hopes  all  fiat,  nature  within  me  seems 
In  all  her  functions  weary  of  herself, 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


My  race  of  glory  inn,  and  race  of  shame, 

And  I shall  shortly  be  with  them  that  rest. 

The  point  of  view  I have  insisted  on  is  that  Milton 
conceives  a poet  to  be  one  who  employs  his  imagination 
to  make  a revelation  of  truth,  truth  which  the  poet  him- 
self entirely  believes.  One  objection  to  this  point  of 
view  will  at  once  occur  to  the  reader,  the  habitual  em- 
ployment in  both  poems  of  the  fictions  of  pagan  myth- 
ology. This  is  an  objection  as  old  as  Miltonic  criticism. 
The  objection  came  from  those  readers  who  had  no 
difficulty  in  realising  the  biblical  scenes,  or  in  accepting 
demoniac  agency,  but  who  found  their  imagination  re- 
pelled by  the  introduction  of  the  gods  of  Greece  or  Eome. 
It  is  not  that  the  biblical  heaven  and  the  Greek  Olympus 
are  incongruous,  but  it  is  that  the  unreal  is  blended  with 
the  real,  in  a way  to  destroy  credibility. 

To  this  objection  the  answer  has  been  supplied  by  De 
Quincey.  To  Milton  the  personages  of  the  heathen 
Pantheon  were  not  merely  familiar  fictions,  or  established 
poetical,  properties;  they  were  evil  spirits.  That  they 
were  so  was  the  creed  of  the  early  interpreters.  In  their 
demonology,  the  Hebrew  and  the  Greek  poets  had  a com- 
mon ground.  Up  to  the  advent  of  Christ,  the  fallen 
angels  had  been  permitted  to  delude  mankind.  To  Milton, 
as  to  Jerome,  Moloch  was  Mars,  and  Chemosh  Priapus. 
Plato  knew  of  hell  as  Tartarus,  and  the  battle  of  the 
giants  in  Hesiod  is  no  fiction,  but  an  obscured  tradition 
of  the  war  once  waged  in  heaven.  What  has  been  ad- 
verse to  Milton’s  art  of  illusion  is,  that  the  belief  that 
the  gods  of  the  heathen  world  were  the  rebellious  angels 
has  ceased  to  be  part  of  the  common  creed  of  Christendom. 
Milton  was  nearly  the  last  of  our  great  writers  who  was 
fully  possessed  of  the  doctrine.  His  readers  now  no 




longer  share  it  with  the  poet.  In  Addison’s  time  (1712) 
some  of  the  imaginary  persons  in  Paradise  Lost  were 
beginning  to  make  greater  demands  upon  the  faith  of 
readers,  than  those  cool  rationalistic  times  could  meet. 

There  is  an  element  of  decay  and  death  in  poems  which 
we  vainly  style  immortal.  Some  of  the  sources  of 
Milton’s  power  are  already  in  process  of  drying  up.  I do 
not  speak  of  the  ordinary  caducity  of  language,  in  virtue 
of  which  every  effusion  of  the  human  spirit  is  lodged  in 
a body  of  death.  Milton  suffers  little  as  yet  from  this 
cause.  There  are  few  lines  in  his  poems  which  are  less 
intelligible  now,  than  they  were  at  the  time  they  were 
written.  This  is  partly  to  be  ascribed  to  his  limited 
vocabulary,  Milton,  in  his  verse,  using  not  more  than 
eight  thousand  words,  or  about  half  the  number  used  by 
Shakespeare.  Hay,  the  position  of  our  earlier  writers  has 
been  improved  by  the  mere  spread  of  the  English  language 
over  a wider  area.  Addison  apologised  for  Paradise  Lost 
falling  short  of  the  JEneid,  because  of  the  inferiority  of 
the  language  in  which  it  was  written.  “ So  divine  a 
poem  in  English  is  like  a stately  palace  built  of  brick.” 
The  defects  of  English  for  purposes  of  rhythm  and  har- 
mony are  as  great  now  as  they  ever  were,  but  the  space 
that  our  speech  fills  in  the  world  is  vastly  increased,  and 
this  increase  of  consideration  is  reflected  back  upon  our 
older  writers. 

But  if,  as  a treasury  of  poetic  speech,  Paradise  Lost 
has  gained  by  time,  it  has  lost  far  more  as  a storehouse 
of  divine  truth.  We  at  this  day  are  better  able  than 
ever  to  appreciate  its  force  of  expression,  its  grace  of 
phrase,  its  harmony  of  rhythmical  movement,  but  it  is 
losing  its  hold  over  our  imagination.  Strange  to  say,  this 
failure  of  vital  power  in  the  constitution  of  the  poem  is 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


due  to  the  very  selection  of  subject  by  which  Milton  sought 
to  secure  perpetuity.  Not  content  with  being  the  poet  of 
men,  and  with  describing  human  passions  and  ordinary 
events,  he  aspired  to  present  the  destiny  of  the  whole  race 
of  mankind,  to  tell  the  story  of  creation,  and  to  reveal  the 
councils  of  heaven  and  hell.  And  he  would  raise  this 
structure  upon  no  unstable  base,  but  upon  the  sure 
foundation  of  the  written  word.  It  would  have  been  a 
thing  incredible  to  Milton  that  the  hold  of  the  Jewish 
Scriptures  over  the  imagination  of  English  men  and 
women  could  ever  be  weakened.  This  process,  however, 
has  already  commenced.  The  demonology  of  the  poem 
has  already,  with  educated  readers,  passed  from  the 
region  of  fact  into  that  of  fiction.  Not  so  universally, 
but  with  a large  number  of  readers,  the  angelology  can 
be  no  more  than  what  the  critics  call  machinery.  And 
it  requires  a violent  effort  from  any  of  our  day  to 
accommodate  their  conceptions  to  the  anthropomorphic 
theology  of  Paradise  Lost  Were  the  sapping  process  to 
continue  at  the  same  rate  for  two  more  centuries,  the 
possibility  of  epic  illusion  would  be  lost  to  the  whole 
scheme  and  economy  of  the  poem.  Milton  has  taken  a 
scheme  of  life  for  life  itself.  Had  he,  in  the  choice  of 
subject,  remembered  the  principle  of  the  Aristotelean 
Poetic  (which  he  otherwise  highly  prized),  that  men  in 
action  are  the  poet’s  proper  theme,  he  would  have  raised 
his  imaginative  fabric  on  a more  permanent  foundation  \ 
upon  the  appetites,  passions,  and  emotions  of  men,  their 
vices  and  virtues,  their  aims  and  ambitions,  which  are  a 
far  more  constant  quantity  than  any  theological  system. 
This  perhaps  was  what  Goethe  meant,  when  he  pro- 
nounced the  subject  of  Paradise  Lost  to  be  “ abominable, 
with  a fair  outside,  but  rotten  inwardly.” 




Whatever  fortune  may  be  in  store  for  Paradise  Lost  in 
the  time  to  come,  Milton's  choice  of  subject  was,  at  the 
time  he  wrote,  the  only  one  which  offered  him  the 
guarantees  of  reality,  authenticity,  and  divine  truth, 
which  he  required.  We  need  not  therefore  search  the 
annals  of  literature  to  find  the  poem  which  may  have 
given  the  first  suggestion  of  the  fall  of  man  as  a subject. 
This,  however,  has  been  done  by  curious  antiquaries,  and 
a list  of  more  than  two  dozen  authors  has  been  made, 
from  one  or  other  of  whom  Milton  may  have  taken  either 
the  general  idea  or  particular  hints  for  single  incidents. 
Milton,  without  being  a very  wide  reader,  was  likely  to 
have  seen  the  Adamus  Exul  of  Grotius  (1601),  and  he 
certainly  had  read  Giles  Fletcher's  Chrisfs  Victory  and 
Triumph  (1610).  There  are  traces  of  verbal  reminiscence 
of  Sylvester's  translation  of  Du  Bartas . Eut  out  of  the 
long  catalogue  of  his  predecessors  there  appear  only  three, 
who  can  claim  to  have  conceived  the  same  theme  with 
anything  like  the  same  breadth,  or  on  the  same  scale  as 
Milton  has  done.  These  are  the  so-called  Caedmon, 
Andreini,  and  Yondel. 

1.  The  anonymous  Anglo-Saxon  poem  which  passes 
under  the  name  of  Caedmon  has  this  one  point  of  resem- 
blance to  the  plot  of  Paradise  Lost , that  in  it  the  seduction 
of  Eve  is  Satan's  revenge  for  his  expulsion  from  heaven. 
As  Francis  Junius  was  much  occupied  upon  this  poem  of 
which  he  published  the  text  in  1655,  it  is  likely  enough 
that  he  should  have  talked  of  it  with  his  friend  Milton. 

2.  Voltaire  related  that  Milton  during  his  tour  in  Italy 
(1638)  had  seen  performed  UAdamo , a sacred  drama  by 
the  Florentine  Giovanni  Battista  Andreini,  and  that  he 
“took  from  that  ridiculous  trifle"  the  hint  of  the  “noblest 
product  of  human  imagination.”  Though  Voltaire  relates 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


this  as  a matter  of  fact,  it  is  doubtful  if  it  be  more  than 
an  on  dit  which  he  had  picked  up  in  London  society. 
Voltaire  could  not  have  seen  Andreini’s  drama,  for  it  is 
not  at  all  a ridiculous  trifle.  Though  much  of  the 
dialogue  is  as  insipid  as  dialogue  in  operettas  usually  is, 
there  is  great  invention  in  the  plot,  and  animation  in  the 
action.  Andreini  is  incessantly  offending  against  taste, 
and  is  infected  with  the  vice  of  the  Marinists,  the 
pursuit  of  concetti , or  far-fetched  analogies  between  things 
unlike.  His  infernal  personages  are  grotesque  and  dis- 
gusting, rather  than  terrible;  his  scenes  in  heaven  childish 
—at  once  familiar  and  fantastic,  in  the  style  of  the 
Mysteries  of  the  age  before  the  drama.  With  all  these 
faults  the  Adamo  is  a lively  and  spirited  representation 
of  the  Hebrew  legend,  and  not  unworthy  to  have  been 
the  antecedent  of  Paradise  Lost.  There  is  no  question 
of  plagiarism,  for  the  resemblance  is  not  even  that  of 
imitation  or  parentage,  or  adoption.  The  utmost  that 
can  be  conceded  is  to  concur  in  Hayley’s  opinion  that, 
either  in  representation  or  in  perusal,  the  Adamo  of 
Andreini  had  made  an  impression  on  the  mind  of  Milton ; 
had,  as  Voltaire  says,  revealed  to  him  the  hidden  majesty 
of  the  subject.  There  had  been  at  least  three  editions 
of  the  Adamo  by  1641,  and  Milton  may  have  brought 
one  of  these  with  him,  among  the  books  which  he  had 
shipped  from  Venice,  even,  if  he  had  not  seen  the  drama 
on  the  Italian  stage,  or  had  not,  as  Todd  suggests,  met 
Andreini  in  person. 

So  much  appears  to  me  to  be  certain  from  the  internal 
evidence  of  the  two  compositions  as  they  stand.  But 
there  are  further  some  slight  corroborative  circumstances, 
(i.)  The  Trinity  College  sketch,  so  often  referred  to,  of 
Milton’s  scheme  when  it  was  intended  to  be  dramatic, 




keeps  much  more  closely,  both  in  its  personages  and  in 
its  ordering,  to  Andreini.  (ii.)  In  Phillips's  Theatrum 
Poetarum,  a compilation  in  which  he  had  his  uncle's 
help,  Andreini  is  mentioned  as  author  “of  a fantastic 
poem  entitled  Olivastro,  which  was  printed  at  Bologna, 
1642.”  If  Andreini  was  known  to  Edward  Phillips,  the 
inference  is  that  he  was  known  to  Milton. 

3.  Lastly,  though  external  evidence  is  here  wanting, 
it  cannot  be  doubted  that  Milton  was  acquainted  with 
the  Lucifer  of  the  Dutch  poet,  Joost  van  den  Vondel, 
which  appeared  in  1654.  This  poem  is  a regular  five-act 
drama  in  the  Dutch  language,  a language  which  Milton 
was  able  to  read.  In  spite  of  commercial  rivalry  and 
naval  war  there  was  much  intercourse  between  the  two 
republics,  and  Amsterdam  books  came  in  regular  course 
to  London.  The  Dutch  drama  turns  entirely  on  the 
revolt  of  the  angels,  and  their  expulsion  from  heaven,  the 
fall  of  man  being  but  a subordinate  incident.  In  Para- 
dise Lost  the  relation  of  the  two  ©vents  is  inverted,  the 
fall  of  the  angels  being  there  an  episode,  not  transacted, 
but  told  by  one  of  the  personages  of  the  epic.  It  is 
therefore  only  in  one  book  of  Paradise  Lost , the  sixth,  that 
the  influence  of  Yondel  can  be  looked  for.  There  may 
possibly  occur  in  other  parts  of  our  epic  single  lines 
of  which  an  original  may  be  found  in  Vondel's  drama. 
Notably  such  a one  is  the  often-quoted— 

Better  to  reign  in  hell  than  serve  in  heaven. 

Paradise  Lost , i.  263. 

which  is  YondeTs— 

En  liever  d’eerste  Vorst  in  eenigh  lager  hof 

Dan  in’t  gezalight  licht  de  tweede,  of  noch  een  minder  ! 

But  it  is  in  the  sixth  book  only  in  which  anything  more 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674, 


than  a verbal  similarity  is  traceable.  According  to  Mr. 
Gosse,  who  has  given  an  analysis,  with  some  translated 
extracts,  of  V ondel’s  Lucifer , the  resemblances  are  too 
close  and  too  numerous  to  be  mere  coincidences.  Yondel 
is  more  human  than  Milton,  just  where  human  attributes 
are  unnatural,  so  that  heaven  is  made  to  seem  like  earth, 
while  in  Paradise  Lost  we  always  feel  that  we  are  in  a 
region  aloft.  Miltonic  presentation  has  a dignity  and 
elevation,  which  is  not  only  wanting  but  is  sadly  missed 
in  the  Dutch  drama,  even  the  language  of  which  seems 
common  and  familiar. 

The  poems  now  mentioned  form,  taken  together,  the 
antecedents  of  Paradise  Lost  In  no  one  instance,  taken 
singly,  is  the  relation  of  Milton  to  a predecessor  that  of 
imitation,  not  even  to  the  extent  in  which  the  iEneid,  for 
instance,  is  an  imitation  of  the  Iliad  and  Odyssey.  The 
originality  of  Milton  lies  not  in  his  subject,  but  in  his 
manner ; not  in  his  thoughts,  but  in  his  mode  of  thinking. 
His  story  and  his  personages,  their  acts  and  words,  had 
been  the  common  property  of  all  poets  since  the  fall  of 
the  Roman  Empire.  Hot  only  the  three  I have  specially 
named  had  boldly  attempted  to  set  forth  a mythical 
representation  of  the  origin  of  evil,  but  many  others  had 
fluttered  round  the  same  central  object  of  poetic  attraction. 
Many  of  these  productions  Milton  had  read,  and  they  had 
made  their  due  impression  on  his  mind  according  to  their 
degree  of  force.  When  he  began  to  compose  Paradise  Lost 
he  had  the  reading  of  a life-time  behind  him.  His  ima- 
gination worked  upon  an  accumulated  store,  to  which 
books,  observation,  and  reflection  had  contributed  in  equal 
proportions.  He  drew  upon  this  store  without  conscious 
distinction  of  its  sources.  Hot  that  this  was  a recollected 
material,  to  which  the  poet  had  recourse  whenever  inven- 




fcion  failed  him  ; it  was  identified  with  himselt  His  verse 
flowed  from  his  own  soul,  but  his  was  a soul  which  had 
grown  up  nourished  with  the  spoil  of  all  the  ages.  He 
created  his  epic,  as  metaphysicians  have  said  that  God 
created  the  world,  by  drawing  it  out  of  himself,  not  by 
building  it  up  out  of  elements  supplied  ah  extra . 

The  resemblances  to  earlier  poets,  Greek,  Latin,  Italian, 
which  could  be  pointed  out  in  Paradise  Lost , were  so 
numerous  that  in  1695,  only  twenty-one  years  after 
Milton’s  death,  an  editor,  one  Patrick  Hume,  a school- 
master in  the  neighbourhood  of  London,  was  employed  by 
Tonson  to  point  out  the  imitations  in  an  annotated  edition. 
From  that  time  downwards,  the  diligence  of  our  literary 
antiquaries  has  been  busily  employed  in  the  same  track  of 
research,  and  it  has  been  extended  to  the  English  poets,  a 
field  which  was  overlooked,  or  not  known  to  the  first 
collector.  The  result  is  a valuable  accumulation  of  parallel 
passages,  which  have  been  swept  up  into  our  variorum 
Miltons,  and  make  Paradise  Lost , for  English  phraseology, 
what  Virgil  was  for  Latin  in  the  middle  ages,  the  centre 
round  which  the  study  moves.  The  learner,  who  desires 
to  cultivate  his  feeling  for  the  fine  shades  and  variations 
of  expression,  has  here  a rich  opportunity,  and  will  acknow- 
ledge with  gratitude  the  laborious  services  of  Newton, 
Pearce,  the  Wartons,  Todd,  Mitford,  and  other  compilers. 
But  these  heaped-up  citations  of  parallel  passages  some- 
what tend  to  hide  from  us  the  secret  of  Miltonic  language. 
We  are  apt  to  think  that  the  magical  effect  of  Milton’s 
words  has  been  produced  by  painfully  inlaying  tessera 
of  borrowed  metaphor — a mosaic  of  bits  culled  from  exten- 
sive reading,  carried  along  by  a retentive  memory,  and 
pieced  together  so  as  to  produce  a new  whole,  with  the 
exquisite  art  of  a Japanese  cabinet-maker.  It  is  some- 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660— 1674. 


times  admitted  that  Milton  was  a plagiary,  but  it  is  urged 
in  extenuation  that  his  plagiarisms  were  always  repro- 
duced in  finer  forms. 

It  is  not  in  the  spirit  of  vindicating  Milton,  hut  as 
touching  the  mystery  of  metrical  language,  that  I dwell  a 
few  moments  upon  this  misconception.  It  is  true  that 
Milton  has  a way  of  making  his  own  even  what  he 
borrows.  While  Horace’s  thefts  from  Alcaeus  or  Pindar 
are  palpable,  even  from  the  care  which  he  takes  to  Latinise 
them,  Milton  cannot  help  transfusing  his  own  nature  into 
the  words  he  adopts.  But  this  is  far  from  all.  When 
Milton’s  widow  was  asked  “if  he  did  not  often  read 
Homer  and  Yirgil,  she  understood  it  as  an  imputation 
upon  him  for  stealing  from  those  authors,  and  answered 
with  eagerness,  that  he  stole  from  nobody  but  the  muse 
who  inspired  him.”  This  is  more  true  than  she  knew.  It 
is  true  there  are  many  phrases  or  images  in  Paradise  Lost 
taken  from  earlier  writers — taken,  not  stolen,  for  the 
borrowing  is  done  openly.  When  Adam,  for  instance,  begs 
Baphael  to  prolong  his  discourse  deep  into  night, — 

Sleep,  listening  to  thee,  will  watch  5 
Or  we  can  bid  his  absence,  till  thy  song 
End,  and  dismiss  thee  ere  the  morning  shine  j 

we  cannot  be  mistaken  in  saying  that  we  have  here  a con- 
scious reminiscence  of  the  words  of  Alcinous  to  Ulysses  in 
the  eleventh  book  of  the  Odyssey.  Such  imitation  is  on 
the  surface,  and  does  not  touch  the  core  of  that  mysterious 
combination  of  traditive  with  original  elements  in  diction, 
which  Milton  and  Yirgil,  alone  of  poets  known  to  us, 
have  effected.  Here  and  there,  many  times,  in  detached 
places,  Milton  has  consciously  imitated.  But,  beyond 
this  obvious  indebtedness,  there  runs  through  the  whole 




texture  of  his  verse  a suggestion  of  secondary  meaning,  a 
meaning  which  has  been  accreted  to  the  words,  by  their 
passage  down  the  consecrated  stream  of  classical  poetry. 
Milton  quotes  very  little  for  a man  of  much  reading.  He 
says  of  himself  ( Judgment  of  Bucer)  that  he  “ never  could 
delight  in  long  citations,  much  less  in  whole  traductions, 
whether  it  be  natural  disposition  or  education  in  me,  or 
that  my  mother  bore  me  a speaker  of  what  God  made 
mine  own,  and  not  a translator.”  And  the  observation  is 
as  old  as  Eishop  Hewton,  that  “there  is  scarce  any  author 
who  has  written  so  much,  and  upon  such  various  subjects, 
and  yet  quotes  so  little  from  his  cotemporary  authors.”  It  is 
said  that  “ he  could  repeat  Homer  almost  all  without  book.” 
But  we  know  that  common  minds  are  apt  to  explain  to 
themselves  the  working  of  mental  superiority,  by  exagge- 
rating  the  power  of  memory.  Milton’s  own  writings  remain 
a sufficient  evidence  that  his  was  not  a verbal  memory. 
And,  psychologically,  the  power  of  imagination  and  the 
power  of  verbal  memory,  are  almost  always  found  in 
inverse  proportion. 

Milton’s  diction  is  the  elaborated  outcome  of  all  the  best 
words  of  all  antecedent  poetry,  not  by  a process  of  recol- 
lected reading  and  storage,  but  by  the  same  mental  habit 
by  which  we  learn  to  speak  our  mother  tongue.  Only,  in 
the  case  of  the  poet,  the  vocabulary  acquired  has  a new 
meaning  superadded  to  the  words,  from  the  occasion  on 
which  they  have  been  previously  employed  by  others. 
Words,  over  and  above  their  dictionary  signification,  con- 
note all  the  feeling  which  has  gathered  round  them  by 
reason  of  their  employment  through  a hundred  generations 
of  song.  In  the  words  of  Mr.  Myers,  “ without  ceasing 
to  be  a logical  step  in  the  argument,  a phrase  becomes  a 
centre  of  emotional  force.  The  complex  associations  which 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


it  evokes,  modify  the  associations  evoked  by  other  words 
in  the  same  passage,  in  a way  distinct  from  logical  or 
grammatical  connection.”  The  poet  suggests  much  more 
than  he  says,  or  as  Milton  himself  has  phrased  it,  “ more 
is  meant  than  meets  the  ear.” 

For  the  purposes  of  poetry  a thought  is  the  representa- 
tive of  many  feelings,  and  a word  is  the  representative  of 
many  thoughts.  A single  word  may  thus  set  in  motion 
in  us  the  vibration  of  a feeling  first  consigned  to  letters 
3000  years  ago.  For  oratory  words  should  he  winged, 
that  they  may  do  their  work  of  persuasion.  For  poetry 
words  should  he  freighted  with  associations  of  feeling,  that 
they  may  awaken  sympathy.  It  is  the  suggestive  power 
of  words  that  the  poet  cares  for,  rather  than  their  current 
denotation.  How  laughable  are  the  attempts  of  the 
commentators  to  interpret  a line  in  Virgil  as  they  would 
a sentence  in  Aristotle's  Physics  / Milton's  secret  lies  in 
his  mastery  over  the  rich  treasure  of  this  inherited  vocabu- 
lary. He  wielded  it  as  his  own,  as  a second  mother- 
tongue,  the  native  and  habitual  idiom  of  his  thought  and 
feeling,  hacked  by  a massive  frame  of  character,  and  “a 
power  which  is  got  within  me  to  a passion.”  (Areopa- 

When  Wordsworth  came  forward  at  the  end  of  the 
eighteenth  century  with  his  famous  reform  of  the  language 
of  English  poetry,  the  Miltonic  diction  was  the  current 
coin  paid  out  by  every  versifier.  Wordsworth  revolted 
against  this  dialect  as  unmeaning,  hollow,  gaudy,  and  inane. 
His  reform  consisted  in  dropping  the  consecrated  phraseo- 
logy altogether,  and  reverting  to  the  common  language 
of  ordinary  life.  It  was  necessary  to  do  this  in  order  to 
reconnect  poetry  with  the  sympathies  of  men,  and  make  it 
again  a true  utterance  instead  of  the  ingenious  exercise  in 




putting  together  words,  which  it  had  become.  In  project- 
ing this  abandonment  of  the  received  tradition,  it  may  be 
thought  that  Wordsworth  was  condemning  the  Miltonic 
system  of  expression  in  itself.  But  this  was  not  so. 
Milton's  language  had  become  in  the  hands  of  the  imitators 
of  the  eighteenth  century  sound  without  sense,  a husk 
without  the  kernel,  a body  of  words  without  the  soul  of 
poetry.  Milton  had  created  and  wielded  an  instrument 
which  was  beyond  the  control  of  any  less  than  himself. 
He  used  it  as  a living  language ; the  poetasters  of  the 
eighteenth  century  wrote  it  as  a dead  language,  as  boys 
make  Latin  verses.  Their  poetry  is  to  Paradise  Lost , as 
a modern  Gothic  restoration  is  to  a genuine  middle-age 
church.  It  was  against  the  feeble  race  of  imitators,  and 
not  against  the  master  himself,  that  the  protest  of  the  lake 
poet  was  raised.  He  proposed  to  do  away  with  the 
Miltonic  vocabulary  altogether,  not  because  it  was  in  itself 
vicious,  but  because  it  could  now  only  be  employed  at 

One  drawback  there  was  attendant  upon  the  style  chosen 
by  Milton,  viz.  that  it  narrowly  limited  the  circle  of  his 
readers.  All  words  are  addressed  to  those  who  understand 
them.  The  Welsh  triads  are  not  for  those  who  have  not 
learnt  Welsh ; an  English  poem  is  only  for  those  who 
understand  English.  But  of  understanding  English  there 
are  many  degrees ; it  requires  some  education  to  under- 
stand literary  style  at  all.  A large  majority  of  the  natives 
of  any  country  possess,  and  use,  only  a small  fraction  of 
their  mother  tongue.  These  people  may  be  left  out  of  the 
discussion.  Confining  ourselves  only  to  that  small  part  of 
our  millions  which  we  speak  of  as  the  educated  classes, 
that  is  those  whose  schooling  is  carried  on  beyond  fourteen 
years  of  age,  it  will  be  found  that  only  a small  fraction  of 



THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


the  men,  and  a still  smaller  fraction  of  the  women,  fully 
apprehend  the  meaning  of  words.  This  is  the  case  with 
what  is  written  in  the  ordinary  language  of  hooks.  When 
we  pass  from  a style  in  which  words  have  only  their 
simple  signification,  to  a style  of  which  the  effect  depends  on 
the  suggestion  of  collateral  association,  we  leave  behind 
the  majority  even  of  these  few.  This  is  what  is  meant 
by  the  standing  charge  against  Milton  that  he  is  too 

It  is  no  paradox  to  say  that  Milton  was  not  a learned 
man.  Such  men  there  were  in  his  day,  Usher,  Selden, 
Y oss,  in  England ; in  Holland,  Milton’s  adversary  Salmasius, 
and  many  more.  A learned  man  was  one  who  could  range 
freely  and  surely  over  the  whole  of  classical  and  patristic 
remains  in  the  Greek  and  Latin  languages  (at  least),  with 
the  accumulated  stores  of  philological,  chronological, 
historical  criticism,  necessary  for  the  interpretation  of 
those  remains.  Milton  had  neither  made  these  acquisi- 
tions, nor  aimed  at  them.  He  even  expresses  himself,  in 
his  vehement  way,  with  contempt  of  them.  “ Hollow 
antiquities  sold  by  the  seeming  bulk,”  “ marginal  stuff- 
ings,” “ horse-loads  of  citations  and  fathers,”  are  some  of 
his  petulant  outbursts  against  the  learning  that  had  been 
played  upon  his  position  by  his  adversaries.  He  says  ex- 
pressly that  he  had  “ not  read  the  Councils,  save  here  and 
there  ” (Smectymnuus) . His  own  practice  had  been 

“ industrious  and  select  reading.”  He  chose  to  make 
himself  a scholar  rather  than  a learned  man.  The  aim  of 
his  studies  was  to  improve  faculty,  not  to  acquire  know- 
ledge. “ Who  would  be  a poet  must  himself  be  a true 
poem  ;”  his  heart  should  “ contain  of  just,  wise,  good,  the 
perfect  shape.”  He  devoted  himself  to  self-preparation 
with  the  assiduity  of  Petrarch  or  of  Goethe.  “ In  weari- 




some  labour  and  studious  watchings  I have  tired  out 
almost  a whole  youth.”  “ Labour  and  intense  study  I 
take  to  be  my  portion  in  this  life.”  He  would  know, 
not  all,  but  “ what  was  of  use  to  know,”  and  form  himself 
by  assiduous  culture.  The  first  Englishman  to  whom  the 
designation  of  our  series,  Men  of  Letters , is  appropriate, 
Milton  was  also  the  noblest  example  of  the  type.  He 
cultivated,  not  letters,  but  himself,  and  sought  to  enter 
into  possession  of  his  own  mental  kingdom,  not  that  ho 
might  reign  there,  but  that  he  might  royally  use  its  re- 
sources in  building  up  a work,  which  should  bring  honour 
to  his  country  and  his  native  tongue. 

The  style  of  Paradise  Lost  is  then  only  the  natural  ex- 
pression of  a soul  thus  exquisitely  nourished  upon  the  best 
thoughts  and  finest  words  of  all  ages.  It  is  the  language 
of  one  who  lives  in  the  companionship  of  the  great  and 
the  wise  of  past  time.  It  is  inevitable  that  when  such  a 
one  speaks,  his  tones,  his  accent,  the  melodies  of  his 
rhythm,  the  inner  harmonies  of  his  linked  thoughts,  the 
grace  of  his  allusive  touch,  should  escape  the  common  ear. 
To  follow  Milton  one  should  at  least  have  tasted  the 
same  training  through  which  he  put  himself.  “ Te  quoque 
dignum  finge  deo.”  The  many  cannot  see  it,  and  com- 
plain that  the  poet  is  too  learned.  They  would  have 
Milton  talk  like  Bunyan  or  William  Cobbett,  whom  they 
understand.  Milton  did  attempt  the  demagogue  in  his 
pamphlets,  only  with  the  result  of  blemishing  his  fame  and 
degrading  his  genius.  The  best  poetry  is  that  which  calls 
upon  us  to  rise  to  it,  not  that  which  writes  down  to  us. 

Milton  knew  that  his  was  not  the  road  to  popularity. 
He  thirsted  for  renown,  but  he  did  not  confound  renown 
with  vogue.  A poet  has  his  choice  between  the  many 
and  the  few  ; Milton  chose  the  few.  “ Paucis  hujusmodi 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 


lectoribus  contentus,”  is  his  own  inscription  in  a copy  oi 
his  pamphlets  sent  by  him  to  Patrick  Young.  He  derived 
a stern  satisfaction  from  the  reprobation  with  which  the 
vulgar  visited  him.  His  divorce  tracts  were  addressed 
to  men  who  dared  to  think,  and  ran  the  town  “ number- 
ing good  intellects.  ” His  poems  he  wished  laid  up  in  the 
Bodleian  Library,  " where  the  jabber  of  common  people 
cannot  penetrate,  and  whence  the  base  throng  of  readers 
keep  aloof”  ( Ode  to  Rouse).  If  Milton  resembled  a Roman 
republican  in  the  severe  and  stoic  elevation  of  his  cha- 
racter, he  also  shared  the  aristocratic  intellectualism  of 
the  classical  type.  He  is  in  marked  contrast  to  the  level- 
ling hatred  of  excellence,  the  Christian  trades-unionism  of 
the  model  Catholic  of  the  mould  of  S.  Francis  de  Sales, 
whose  maxim  of  life  is  “ mar  chons  avec  la  troupe  de  nos 
freres  et  compagnons,  doucement,  paisiblement,  et  ami- 
ablement.”  To  Milton  the  people  are— 

But  a herd  confus’d, 

A miscellaneous  rabble,  who  extol 
Things  vulgar. 

Pcvradise  Regained , iii.  49. 

At  times  his  indignation  carries  him  past  the  cour- 
tesies of  equal  speech,  to  pour  out  the  vials  of  prophetic 
rebuke,  when  he  contemplates  the  hopeless  struggle  of 
those  who  are  the  salt  of  the  earth,  “ amidst  the  throng  and 
noises  of  vulgar  and  irrational  men  ” ( Tenure  of  Kings) , 
and  he  rates  them  to  their  face  as  “ owls  and  cuckoos, 
asses,  apes,  and  dogs  ” {Sonnet  xix.) ; not  because  they  will 
not  listen  to  him,  but  because  they  “ hate  learning  more 
than  toad  or  asp  ” {Sonnet  ix.). 

Milton’s  attitude  must  be  distinguished  from  patrician 
pride,  or  the  noli-me-tangere  of  social  exclusiveness.  Nor, 
again,  was  it,  like  Callimachus’s,  the  fastidious  repulsion 




of  a delicate  taste  for  the  hackneyed  in  literary  expression ; 
it  was  the  lofty  disdain  of  aspiring  virtue  for  the  sordid 
and  ignoble. 

Various  ingredients,  constitutional  or  circumstantial, 
concurred  to  produce  this  repellent  or  unsympathetic  atti- 
tude in  Milton.  His  dogmatic  Calvinism,  from  the  effects 
of  which  his  mind  never  recovered— a system  which  easily 
disposes  to  a cynical  abasement  of  our  fellow-men — counted 
for  something.  Something  must  be  set  down  to  habitual 
converse  with  the  classics — a converse  which  tends  to  im- 
part to  character,  as  Platner  said  of  Godfrey  Hermann,  “ a 
certain  grandeur  and  generosity,  removed  from  the  spirit 
of  cabal  and  mean  cunning  which  prevail  among  men  of 
the  world.”  His  blindness  threw  him  out  of  the  com- 
petition of  life,  and  back  upon  himself,  in  a way  which 
was  sure  to  foster  egotism.  These  were  constitutional 
elements  of  that  aloofness  from  men  which  characterised 
all  his  utterance.  These  disposing  causes  became  inex- 
orable fate,  when,  by  the  turn  of  the  political  wheel  of 
fortune,  he  found  himself  alone  amid  the  mindless 
dissipation  and  reckless  materialism  of  the  Restoration, 
He  felt  himself  then  at  war  with  human  society  as 
constituted  around  him,  and  was  thus  driven  to  with- 
draw himself  within  a poetic  world  of  his  own  crea- 

In  this  antagonism  of  the  poet  to  his  age  much  was 
lost ; much  energy  was  consumed  in  what  was  mere 
friction.  The  artist  is  then  most  powerful  when  he  finds 
himself  in  accord  with  the  age  he  lives  in.  The  pleni- 
tude of  art  is  only  reached  when  it  marches  with  the 
sentiments  which  possess  a community.  The  defiant 
attitude  easily  slides  into  paradox,  and  the  mind  falls  in 
love  with  its  own  wilfulness.  The  exceptional  emergence 

214  THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674.  I[chap. 

of  Milton’s  three  poems,  Paradise  Lost , Regained , and 
Samson , deeply  colours  their  context.  The  greatest 
achievements  of  art  in  their  kinds  have  been  the  capital 
specimens  of  a large  crop ; as  the  Iliad  and  Odyssey  are 
the  picked  lines  out  of  many  rhapsodies,  and  Shakespeare 
the  king  of  an  army  of  contemporary  dramatists.  Milton 
was  a survival,  felt  himself  such,  and  resented  it. 


Though  fall'n  on  evil  days, 

On  evil  days  though  fall'n,  and  evil  tongues ; 

In  darkness,  and  with  dangers  compass'd  round, 

And  solitude. 

Paradise  Lost , vii.  24. 

Poetry  thus  generated  we  should  naturally  expect  to 
meet  with  more  admiration  than  sympathy.  And  such, 
on  the  whole,  has  been  Milton's  reception.  In  1678, 
twenty  years  after  the  publication  of  Paradise  Lost , Prior 
spoke  of  him  ( Hind  transversed ) as  “ a rough,  unhewn 
fellow,  that  a man  must  sweat  to  read  him.”  And  in 
1842,  Hallam  had  doubts  “ if  Paradise  Lost , published 
eleven  years  since,  would  have  met  with  a greater  de- 
mand ” than  it  did  at  first.  It  has  been  much  disputed 
by  historians  of  our  literature  what  inference  is  to  be 
drawn  from  the  numbers  sold  of  Paradise  Lost  at  its 
first  publication.  Between  1667  and  1678,  a space  of 
twenty  years,  three  editions  had  been  printed,  making 
together  some  4500  copies.  Was  this  a large  or  a small 
circulation?  Opinions  are  at  variance  on  the  point. 
Johnson  and  Hallam  thought  it  a large  sale,  as  books 
went  at  that  time.  Campbell,  and  the  majority  of  our 
annalists  of  books,  have  considered  it  as  evidence  of 
neglect.  Comparison  with  what  is  known  of  other  cases 
of  circulation  leads  to  no  more  certain  conclusion.  On 




the  one  hand,  the  public  could  not  take  more  than  three 
editions — say  3000  copies — of  the  plays  of  Shakespeare 
in  sixty  years,  from  1623  to  1684.  If  this  were  a fair 
measure  of  possible  circulation  at  the  time,  we  should 
have  *to  pronounce  Milton’s  sale  a great  success.  On  the 
other  hand,  Cleveland’s  poems  ran  through  sixteen  or 
seventeen  editions  in  about  thirty  years.  If  this  were 
the  average  output  of  a popular  book,  the  inference 
would  be  that  Paradise  Lost  was  not  such  a book. 

Whatever  conclusion  may  be  the  true  one  from  the 
amount  of  the  public  demand,  we  cannot  be  wrong  in 
asserting  that  from  the  first,  and  now  as  then,  Paradise 
Lost  has  been  more  admired  than  read.  The  poet’s  wish 
and  expectation  that  he  should  find  “ fit  audience,  though 
few,”  has  been  fulfilled.  Partly  this  has  been  due  to 
his  limitation,  his  unsympathetic  disposition,  the  de- 
ficiency of  the  human  element  in  his  imagination,  and 
his  presentation  of  mythical  instead  of  real  beings.  But 
it  is  also  in  part  a tribute  to  his  excellence,  and  is  to  be 
ascribed  to  the  lofty  strain  which  requires  more  effort  to 
accompany,  than  an  average  reader  is  able  to  make,  a 
majestic  demeanour  which  no  parodist  has  been  able  to 
degrade,  and  a wealth  of  allusion  demanding  more 
literature  than  is  possessed  by  any  but  the  few  whose  life 
is  lived  with  the  poets.  An  appreciation  of  Milton  is  the 
last  reward  of  consummated  scholarship  ; and  we  may 
apply  to  him  what  Quintilian  has  said  of  Cicero,  “ Ille  se 
profecisse  sciat,  cui  Cicero  valde  placebit.” 

Causes  other  than  the  inherent  faults  of  the  poem 
long  continued  to  weigh  down  the  reputation  of  Paradise 
Lost.  In  Great  Britain  the  sense  for  art,  poetry,  litera- 
ture, is  confined  to  a few,  while  our  political  life  has 
been  diffused  and  vigorous.  Hence  all  judgment,  even 

216  THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674.  [cha*. 

upon  a poet,  is  biassed  by  considerations  of  party.  Be- 
fore 1688  it  was  impossible  that  the  poet,  who  had 
justified  regicide,  could  have  any  public  beyond  the  sup- 
pressed and  crouching  Nonconformists.  The  Revolution 
of  1688  removed  this  ban,  and  from  that  date  forward 
the  Liberal  party  in  England  adopted  Milton  as  the 
republican  poet.  William  Hogg,  writing  in  1690,  says 
of  Paradise  Lost  that  “ the  fame  of  the  poem  is  spread 
through  the  whole  of  England,  but  being  written  in 
English,  it  is  as  yet  unknown  in  foreign  lands.”  This  is 
obvious  exaggeration.  Lauder,  about  1748,  gives  the 
date  exactly,  when  he  speaks  of  “ that  infinite  tribute  of 
veneration  that  has  been  paid  to  him  these  sixty  years 
past”  One  distinguished  exception  there  was.  Dryden, 
royalist  and  Catholic  though  he  was,  was  loyal  to  his  art. 
Nothing  which  Dryden  ever  wrote  is  so  creditable  to  his 
taste,  as  his  being  able  to  see,  and  daring  to  confess,  in 
the  day  of  disesteem,  that  the  regicide  poet  alone  deserved 
the  honour  which  his  cotemporaries  were  for  rendering 
to  himself.  Dryden's  saying,  “ This  man  cuts  us  all  out, 
and  the  ancients  too,”  is  not  perfectly  well  vouched,  but 
it  would  hardly  have  been  invented,  if  it  had  not  been 
known  to  express  his  sentiments.  And  Dryden’s  sense 
of  Milton's  greatness  grew  with  his  taste.  When,  in  the 
preface  to  his  State  of  Innocence  (1674),  Dryden  praised 
Paradise  Lost , he  “ knew  not  half  the  extent  of  its  ex- 
cellence,” John  Dennis  says,  “as  more  than  twenty  years 
afterwards  he  confessed  to  me.”  Had  he  known  it,  he 
never  could  have  produced  his  vulgar  parody,  The  State 
of  Innocence,  a piece  upon  which  he  received  the  com- 
pliments of  his  cotemporaries,  as  “ having  refined  the  ore 
of  Milton.” 

With  the  one  exception  of  Dryden,  a better  critic  than 




poet,  Milton's  repute  was  the  work  of  the  Whigs.  The 
first  edition  de  luxe  of  Paradise  Lost  (1688)  was  brought 
out  by  a subscription  got  up  by  the  Whig  leader,  Lord 
Somers.  In  this  edition  Dryden's  pinchbeck  epigram  so 
often  quoted,  first  appeared — 

Three  poets  in  three  distant  ages  born,  &c. 

It  was  the  Whig  essayist,  Addison,  whose  papers  in  the 
Spectator  (1712)  did  most  to  make  the  poem  popularly 
known.  In  1737,  in  the  height  of  the  Whig  ascendancy, 
the  bust  of  Milton  penetrated  Westminster  Abbey,  though, 
in  the  generation  before,  the  Dean  of  that  day  had  refused 
to  admit  an  inscription  on  the  monument  erected  to  John 
Phillips,  because  the  name  of  Milton  occurred  in  it. 

The  zeal  of  the  Liberal  party  in  the  propagation  of  the 
cult  of  Milton  was  of  course  encountered  by  an  equal 
passion  on  the  part  of  the  Tory  opposition.  They  were 
exasperated  by  the  lustre  which  was  reflected  upon  De- 
volution principles  by  the  name  of  Milton.  About  the 
middle  of  the  eighteenth  century,  when  Whig  popularity 
was  already  beginning  to  wane,  a desperate  attempt  was 
made  by  a rising  Tory  pamphleteer  to  crush  the  new  Liberal 
idol.  Dr.  Johnson,  the  most  vigorous  writer  of  the  day, 
conspired  with  one  William  Lauder,  a native  of  Scotland 
seeking  fortune  in  London,  to  stamp  out  Milton's  credit  by 
proving  him  to  be  a wholesale  plagiarist.  Milton's  imita- 
tions—he  had  gathered  pearls  wherever  they  were  to  be 
found — were  thus  to  be  turned  into  an  indictment  against 
him.  One  of  the  beauties  of  Paradise  Lost  is,  as  has  been 
already  said,  the  scholar's  flavour  of  literary  reminiscence 
which  hangs  about  its  words  and  images.  This  Virgilian 
art,  in  which  Milton  has  surpassed  his  master,  was  repre- 
sented by  this  pair  of  literary  bandits  as  theft,  and  held 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660-1674. 


to  prove  at  once  moral  obliquity  and  intellectual  feeble- 
ness. This  line  of  criticism  was  well  chosen ; it  was,  in 
fact,  an  appeal  to  the  many  from  the  few.  Unluckily  for 
the  plot,  Lauder  was  not  satisfied  with  the  amount  of  re- 
semblance shown  by  real  parallel  passages.  He  ventured 
upon  the  bold  step  of  forging  verses,  closely  resembling 
lines  in  Paradise  Lost , and  ascribing  these  verses  to  older 
poets.  He  even  forged  verses  which  he  quoted  as  if  from 
Paradise  Lost , and  showed  them  as  Milton’s  plagiarisms 
from  preceding  writers.  Even  these  clumsy  fictions 
might  have  passed  without  detection  at  that  uncritical 
period  of  our  literature,  and  under  the  shelter  of  the  name 
of  Samuel  Johnson.  But  Lauder’s  impudence  grew  with 
the  success  of  his  criticisms,  which  he  brought  out  as  letters, 
through  a series  of  years,  in  the  Gentleman' s Magazine. 
There  was  a translation  of  Paradise  Lost  into  Latin 
hexameters,  which  had  been  made  in  1690  by  William 
Hogg.  Lauder  inserted  lines,  taken  from  this  translation, 
into  passages  taken  from  Massenius,  Staphorstius,  Taub- 
mannus,  neo-Latin  poets,  whom  Milton  had,  or  might  have 
read,  and  presented  these  passages  as  thefts  by  Milton. 

Low  as  learning  had  sunk  in  England  in  1750,  Hogg’s 
Latin  Paradisus  amissus  was  just  the  book,  which  tutors  of 
colleges  who  could  teach  Latin  verses  had  often  in  their 
hands.  Mr.  Bowie,  a tutor  of  Oriel  College,  Oxford, 
immediately  recognised  an  old  acquaintance  in  one  or  two 
of  the  interpolated  lines.  This  put  him  upon  the  scent, 
he  submitted  Lauder’s  passages  to  a closer  investigation,  and 
the  whole  fraud  was  exposed.  Johnson,  who  was  not 
concerned  in  the  cheat,  and  was  only  guilty  of  indolence 
and  party  spirit,  saved  himself  by  sacrificing  his  comrade. 
He  afterwards  took  ample  revenge  for  the  mortification  of 
this  exposure,  in  his  Lives  of  the  Poets , in  which  he  em- 




ployed  all  liis  vigorous  powers  and  consummate  skill  to 
write  down  Milton.  He  undoubtedly  dealt  a heavy  blow 
at  the  poet’s  reputation,  and  succeeded  in  damaging  it  for 
at  least  two  generations  of  readers.  He  did  for  Milton 
what  Aristophanes  did  for  Socrates,  effaced  the  real  man 
and  replaced  him  by  a distorted  and  degrading  caricature. 

It  was  again  a clergyman  to  whom  Milton  owed  his 
vindication  from  Lauder’s  onslaught.  John  Douglas, 
afterwards  bishop  of  Salisbury,  brought  Bowie’s  materials 
before  the  public.  But  the  high  Anglican  section  of 
English  life  has  never  thoroughly  accepted  Milton.  B.  S. 
Hawker,  vicar  of  Morwenstow,  himself  a poet  of  real  feel- 
ing, gave  expression,  in  rabid  abuse  of  Milton,  to  the 
antipathy  which  more  judicious  churchmen  suppress. 
Even  the  calm  and  gentle  author  of  the  Christian  Year , 
wide  heart  ill-sorted  with  a narrow  creed,  deliberately 
framed  a theory  of  Poetic  for  the  express  purpose,  as  it 
would  seem,  of  excluding  the  author  of  Paradise  Lost 
from  the  first  class  of  poets. 

But  a work  such  as  Milton  has  constructed,  at  once 
intense  and  elaborate,  firmly  knit  and  broadly  laid,  can 
afford  to  wait.  Time  is  all  in  its  favour,  and  against  its 
detractors.  The  Church  never  forgives,  and  faction  does 
not  die  out.  But  Milton  has  been,  for  two  centuries,  get- 
ting beyond  the  reach  of  party  feeling,  whether  of  friends 
or  foes.  In  each  national  aggregate  an  instinct  is  always 
at  work,  an  instinct  not  equal  to  exact  discrimination  of 
lesser  degrees  of  merit,  but  surely  finding  out  the  chief 
forces  which  have  found  expression  in  the  native  tongue. 
This  instinct  is  not  an  active  faculty,  and  so  exposed  to  the 
influences  which  warp  the  will,  it  is  a passive  deposition 
from  unconscious  impression.  Our  appreciation  of  our 
poet  is  not  to  be  measured  by  our  choosing  him  for  our 


THIRD  PERIOD.  1660—1674. 

[CH.  XIII. 

favourite  closet  companion,  or  reading  him  often.  As 
Voltaire  wittily  said  of  Dante,  “Sa  reputation  s’affirmera 
toujours,  parce  qu'on  ne  le  lit  guere.”  We  shall  prefer 
to  read  the  fashionable  novelist  of  each  season  as  it  passes, 
but  we  shall  choose  to  be  represented  at  the  international 
congress  of  world  poets  by  Shakespeare  and  Milton; 
Shakespeare  first,  and  next  Milton. 


Act  of  Oblivion,  138 
Act  of  Uniformity,  153 
Adamo  (Andreini),  201-202 
Adamus  Exul  (G-rotius),  201 
Addison,  181,  199,  217 
JEneid , 199,  204 
iEschylus,  Agamemnon , 30 
Agar,  Thomas,  44 
Aldersgate,  44,  51,  63,  160 
Amsterdam,  154 
Anabaptists,  122 
Andreini,  201-203 
Animadversions  on  the  Remon- 
strants' Defence , 76 
Apology  against  a pamphlet,  etc.,  7 6 
Arabian  Nights , 183 
Aratus,  18 

Arcadia  (Sidney),  103 
Areopagitica,  72,  80,  82-84,  208 
Ariosto,  175 
Aristotle,  197 
Arnold,  C.,  135-136 
Arthurian  legend,  167-168,  175 - 

Artillery  Row,  159 
Attaway,  Mrs.,  60 
Aubrey,  John,  1,  2,  5-6,  18,  131, 
135,  145,  148,  150,  157,  164, 

Aylmer,  B.,  a publisher,  162 

Bacon,  46,  70,  112 
Baptistes,  172 
Barberini,  F.,  37 
Barbican,  63,  85,  87 

Barnes,  J.,  a plagiarist,  18 
Baroni,  L.,  an  Italian  singer,  37 
Barrow,  I.,  Master  of  Trinity,  154 
Barrow,  S. , physician  to  Charles  II., 

Bartholomew  Close,  138 
Bentham,  98 
Betterton,  139 
Bible,  the,  71,  130,  189 
Birch,  a printer,  166 
Blake,  Admiral,  128 
Bodleian  library,  8,  89,  212 
Bodmer,  a poet,  177 
Bologna,  40,  53 
Bowie,  Oxford  tutor,  218-219 
Braekley,  Lord,  23 
Bradbury,  a clergyman,  136 
Bradshaw,  120 
Bramhall,  a detractor,  108 
Bread  Street,  3,  142 
Brentford,  51 
Bridgewater,  Earl  of,  21 
Brief  History  of  Moscovia,  163 
Britain,  History  of,  70,  162 
Bunhill  Row,  149,  150 
Bunyan,  211 
Butler,  Bishop,  182 

Caedmon,  201 
Callimachus,  212 
Calvin’s  Institutes , 179 
Cambridge,  5-11 
Canterbury,  Archbishop  of,  159 
Carew,  Caelum  Rritannicum,  22 
Carey,  N.,  38 



Casaubon,  17,  106  ; Exercitations 
on  Baronins , 75 
Chalfont  St.  Giles,  158-159 
Chappell,  6,  7,  76,  108 
Charing  Cross,  97 
Charles  I.,  69,  93,  100,  126 
Charles  II.,  105,  109,  137,  141 
Chateaubriand,  173,  190 
Chilling  worth,  5 

Christ’s  College,  Cambridge,  5-11 
Christ's  Victory  and  Triumph 
(Fletcher),  201 
Christus  Patiens , 172 
Cicero,  215 
Clarges,  Sir  T.,  139 
Claudian,  ancient  poet,  194 
Claris  Apocalyptica  (Mede),  8 
Cleveland,  194,  215 
Cobbett,  W.,  211 
Coleridge,  Hartley,  19,  66 
Coleridge,  S.  T.,  182,  195 
Collier,  Poetical  Decameron , 70 
Comenius,  46 

Commonplace  book,  Milton’s,  19 
Compendium  of  Theology.  See 
Treatise  of  Christian  Doctrine 
Comus , 4,  17,  21-23,  165 
Considerations  to  remove  Hirelings , 

Conventicle  Act,  153 
Copernican  theory,  180 
Corneille,  90 

Council  of  State,  93-94,  106,  119, 
130,  134 

Cromwell,  O.,  69,  81,  89,  92,  95, 
98,  119-127,  135-136,  162 
Cromwell,  K.,  98,  137 

Dante,  181-182,  188,  191,  220 
Davenant,  133,  139 
Davis,  Miss,  61-62 
Davity , 163 

De  Doctrina  Christiana , 54,  155- 
156,  162 

Defensio  pro  se,  and  suppl.,  118 
Defensio  pro  populo  Anglicano , 

106-107,  109 

Defensio  Regia  (Salmasius),  106, 

Defensio  Secunda , 37,  109,  110, 
116,  120 
Demosthenes,  70 
Denbigh,  Lord,  94 
Dennis,  216 
De  Quincey,  198 
Diodati,  C.,  17,  20,  41 
Diodati,  G.,  40 

Doctrine  and  Discipline  of  Divorce, 
57-60,  81 

Don  Quixote , 190,  192 
Douglas,  J.,  Bishop  of  Salisbury, 

Dryden,  79,  90,  112,  142,  188, 
194,  216-217 
Du  Bartas , 4,  201 
Du  Moulin,  115 
Dutch  war,  113-114,  126 

Earle,  a royal  chaplain,  105 
Ecclesiastical  Sonnets  (Words- 
worth), 169 

Edward  the  Confessor,  176 
Egertons,  the,  23 

Eikon  Basilike  (Gauden),  100,  105 
Eikonoklastes , 102 
Elisabeth,  Queen,  125-126 
Ellwood,  Thomas,  149,  158 
Elzevir,  Daniel,  154 
England's  Helicon , 134 
Epigrams,  Milton’s  Latin,  37 
Epitaphium  Damonis,  41,  168 
Euripides , 18,  171 

Fairfax,  Lord,  89,  92,  95,  131, 

Fairfax’s  Tasso , 4 

Faithorne’s  portrait  of  Milton,  148 

Falkland,  Lord,  38 

Faust  (Goethe),  192 

Ferrara,  40 

Fides  Publica  (Morus),  117 
Fifth  Monarchy  men,  121-122 
Fire,  the  Great,  159 
Fisher,  Mary,  145 
Five  Mile  Act,  153 
Fleetwood,  General,  158 
Fletcher,  Christ's  Victory  and 
Triumph , 201 



Florence,  34-35,  39 
Forest  Hill,  51-52,  61-62,  86 
Fox,  G.,  125,  152 
France,  126 
Francini,  a poet,  36 
Francois  de  Sales,  S.,  212 

Galileo,  39-40,  83 
Gataker,  4,  130 

Gauden,  author  of  Eikon  Basilike , 
100-101,  103 
Geneva,  40 
Genoa,  34 

Gentleman  s Magazine , The , 218 

Gessner,  a poet,  177 

Gibbon,  79,  171 

Gill,  Master  of  St.  Paul’s,  4,  5 

Godwin,  William,  134 

Goethe,  200,  210 

Gosse,  Edmund,  204 

Grammar,  Latin  (Milton),  162 

Greece,  39 

Grotius,  34,  201 

Hacket,  131 

Hall,  Joseph,  a bishop,  76 
Hallam,  53,  84,  100,  214 
Harold,  176 
Harrington,  95 
Harrison,  122 

Hartlib,  Samuel,  champion  of 
Comenius,  46-48 
Hawker,  a poet,  219 
Hayley,  a critic,  202 
Pleimbach,  128,  144 
Hermann,  213 
Heylin,  34 

High  Commission  Court,  73 
Historia  regni  Italici  (Sigonius), 


History  of  Britain,  70,  162 
Histriomastix  (Prynne),  22 
Hobbes,  107,  131 
Hogg,  W.,  216,  218 
Holstenius,  Lucas,  37 
Homer,  181 
Hooker,  69-70 
Horace,  27,  206 
Horton,  14-15,  17-19,  44-45 

Howell,  Instructions  for  Forreine 
Travel , 33 
Howitt,  158 

Hume,  P.,  a schoolmaster,  205 
Hutchinson,  95 
Huxley,  184 

Iliad , The,  182,  204,  214 
II  Penseroso,  9,  14,  21,  23-29,  165 
Independents,  59,  61-62,  65,  120 
Instructions  for  Forreine  Travel 
(Howell),  33 
Isocrates,  82 

James  I.,  126,  156 
Jesuits,  126 

Johnson,  S.,  17-18,  31,  104,  109, 
130, 152, 181,  195,  214,  217-218 
Jones,  R.,  133 
Jonson,  B.,  112,  192 

Judgment  of  Bucer,  207 
Judgment  of  Dr.  Raiholds  (Usher), 

Junius,  F.,  201 

Keble,  179,  219 

Keder minster,  44 

King,  E.,  Fellow  of  Christ’s,  8,  41 

V Allegro,  14,  21,  23-31,  158, 165 
Laud,  5,  73 
Lauder,  Wm. , 216-218 
Lawes,  H.,  celebrated  composer, 
21,  23 

Lawrence,  H.,  132 
Lay  of  the  Last  Minstrel  (Scott), 

Letters,  Milton’s  Latin,  162 
Levellers,  121-122 
Lexicon,  Milton’s  Latin,  163 
Ley,  Lady  M.,  61 
Leyden,  University  of,  105 
Lisle,  94 

Lives  of  the  Poets  (Johnson),  218 

Locke,  47,  155 

Lockhart,  186 

Logic  (Milton),  162 

Lowell,  J.  R.,  144 

Lucifer  (Vondel),  203-204 



Lucretius,  179 
Ludlow,  95 
Ludlow  Castle,  21 
Lycidas,  14,  21,  23,  29-31,  39, 
123,  165 
Lycophron , 18 

Macaulay,  Lord,  170,  175 
Macbeth,  176 
Malherbe,  168 

Manso,  G.,  Marquis  of  Villa,  38 
Marmontel,  191 
Marten,  H.,  94,  95 
Marvel,  A.,  131,  137,  139 
Mask,  the,  21-22 
Massenius,  218 

Masson,  L.,  Professor,  2,  24,  30, 
39,  57,  84-85 
Mazarin,  126-127 
Meadows,  P.,  131,  137 
Mede,  Clavis  Apocalyptica , 8 
Mercurius  Politicus,  84,  99 
Millington,  149 

Milton,  John,  his  ancestry,  3 ; 
father,  3 ; birthplace,  3 ; at  St. 
Paul’s  School,  3-4 ; Presbyterian 
influences,  4 ; paraphrases  of 
Psalms,  4 ; early  studies,  5 ; 
pensioner  of  Christ’s,  Cambridge, 

5 ; college  punishment,  6-7  ; 
takes  degrees  of  B.A.  and  M.A., 

7 ; “the  lady  of  Christ’s,”  7 ; 
question  of  Fellowship,  8-11  ; 
his  opinion  of  Cambridge,  9-10  ; 
retires  to  Horton,  14  ; poetry 
his  vocation,  15-16  ; common- 
place book,  19  ; visits  to  London, 
20  ; Comus,  21-23  ; L’ Allegro, 
11  Penseroso , Lycidas , Ode  on 
the  Nativity,  23-31  ; journey  to 
Italy,  32-42  ; compositions  in 
Italian,  36-37  ; Epitaphium 
Damonis,  41  ; return  to  London, 
43  ; lives  in  Aldersgate,  44  ; 
education  of  his  nephews,  44- 
45  ; marries  Mary  Powell,  51  ; 
domestic  unhappiness,  53,  55- 
56  ; his  wife  leaves  him,  56  ; 
Doctrine  and  Discipline  ofi 

Divorce,  57  ; becomes  an  Inde- 
pendent, 59  ; Tetrachordon,  60  ; 
reconciliation  with  his  wife,  61- 
62  ; moves  to  house  in  Bar- 
bican, 63  ; his  children  born, 
63 ; death  of  his  wife,  63 ; 
renounces  poetry,  64-65  ; poli- 
tical pamphlets,  72-84;  Areo- 
pagitica,  72  ; gives  up  pupils, 
87  ; moves  to  High  Holborn,  87  ; 
Sonnets,  88-89  ; Paraphrase  of 
Psalms,  89-91  ; early  poems 
published,  91  ; his  eyesight 
threatened,  94 ; Secretary  to 
Council  of  State,  95-96,  136- 
137;  moves  to  Charing  Cross, 
to  Petty  France,  97  ; Eikono- 
klastes,  102;  Pro  populo  Angli- 
cano  defensio,  106 ; blindness, 
110-111,125;  Defensio  Secunda, 
116  ; Pro  se  defensio,  118  ; as 
, Puritan,  Presbyterian,  Indepen- 
dent, 120  ; as  supporter  of 
Cromwell,  120-124  ; Considera- 
tions to  remove  Hirelings,  124  ; 
relations  with  Cromwell  and 
Council,  124,  128  ; his  second 
marriage  and  wife’s  death,  136  ; 
Ready  and  easy  way  to  establish 
a Commonwealth,  138  ; lies  con- 
cealed at  the  Restoration,  138  ; 
loses  Latin  secretaryship,  142  ; 
his  monetary  losses,  142  ; re- 
turns to  poetry,  143-144;  his 
readers  and  amanuenses,  144  ; 
his  third  marriage,  144  ; rela- 
tions with  his  daughters,  146- 

149  ; his  various  houses,  149- 

150  ; Of  true  Religion,  152 ; 
Treatise  of  Christian  Doctrine, 
154-155,  162;  Paradise  Lost , 
157-158,  161;  Paradise  Re- 
gained and  Samson  Agonistes, 
161  ; History  of  Britain,  Latin 
Grammar,  Logic,  Early  Poems 
(new  ed.),  Latin  letters,  162  ; 
Brief  History  of  Moscovia,  163  ; 
Latin  Lexicon,  163  ; death,  164 

Lives  of,  1,  2,  152  ; character 



and  disposition,  6,  7,  117, 

129-130;  his  mental  isola- 
tion, 8,  128-129,  211-214; 

views  upon  education,  9,  45- 
49  ; his  views  of  the  poetic 
character,  16  - 17  ; his  Puritan 
austerity,  16,  53  ; personal 

appearance  and  habits,  20,  148- 
149,  150-151  ; attitude  to  nature 
in  his  poems,  24-28  ; his  views 
of  women,  54-55,  146-147  ; his 
prose  style,  66-71,  107, 112-113; 
his  love  of  liberty,  68,  122-124; 
his  vocabulary,  71,  199  ; views 
of  toleration,  83,  99,  152-153  ; 
his  theory  of  Church  and  State, 
123-124  ; his  State  letters,  125  ; 
his  friends,  131-133  ; his  reputa- 
tion with  foreigners,  135-136  : 
methods  of  composition,  151  ; 
his  piety,  151-152  ; his  religious 
views,  152,  156  ; his  learning, 
157,  210-211  ; poetry  his  voca- 
tion, 165-167  ; his  genius  lyrical, 
175  ;*his  theory  of  poetry,  193  ; 
his  diction,  207-208 
Milton,  Anne  (sister),  12,  44 
Milton.  Anne  (daughter),  146- 
148  ' 

Milton,  Catharine  (nee  Woodcock, 
second  wife),  136 

Milton,  Christopher  (brother),  12, 
33,  154 

Milton,  Deborah  (daughter),  129, 

Milton,  Elizabeth  ( nee  Minshull, 
third  wife),  131,  145 
Milton,  John  (father),  3,  33,  43, 
52,  87 

Milton,  Mary  ( nee  Powell,  first 
wife),  51,  54-58,  61-63 
Milton,  Mary  (daughter),  146- 

Milton,  Richard  (grandfather),  3, 

Mitford,  152,  205 
Moliere,  97 
Monk,  Gen.,  138 
Morland,  128 

Morris,  secretary,  139 
Morus,  96,  105,  113,  115-118, 

Moscovia,  Brief  History  of  163 
Moseley,  H.,  publisher,  91,  165 
Myers,  207 

Mysteries  of  Love  and  Eloquence 

(Phillips),  134 

Naples,  38 
Naseby,  61 
Neal,  125 

Needham,  M.,  newspaper  editor, 
84,  142 
Netherby,  19 
New  Inn  (Jonson),  192 
Newton,  Bishop,  145,  147,  152 
205,  207 
Nice,  34 

Observations  of  the  Peace  of  Kil- 
kenny, 99-100 

Ode  on  Immortality  (Wordsworth), 

Ode  on  the  Nativity , 24 
Of  Church  Government , 172 
Of  Education,  47 
Of  Prelaticall  Episcopacy,  7 4 
Of  Reformation  touching  Church 
Discipline,  72,  74 
Of  true  Religion,  152,  154 
Oldenburg,  H.,  133 
Old  Wives’  Tale  (Peele),  22 
Oldys,  23 

On  the  Lord- General  Fairfax , 
sonnet,  89 

On  Mrs.  Catherine  Thomson,  son- 
net, 88 

Overton,  120,  122 
Oxford,  62,  89 

Paget,  Dr.,  132,  145 
Pamphlets  (Milton),  19,  45,  47, 
69,  72,  74-84,  138,  168 
Paradise  Lost , 14,  21,  53,  62-63, 
111,  146,  151,  159,  168,  178, 
209,  211 ; parallel  passages  in,  18- 
19,  205-207  ; date,  157  ; agree- 




ment  with  Symons  to  publish, 
160-161;  choice  of  subject, 
170-179  ; drafts  of  the  plot, 
172  ; vastness  of  scheme,  179- 
180  ; incongruities  in,  181-184; 
skill  in  handling,  184-185  ; the 
supernatural  personages,  185- 

188  ; adherence  to  Scripture, 

189  ; compared  with  Paradise 
Regained , 191  - 195  ; pagan 
mythology  in,  198  ; element  of 
decay  in,  199-200  ; antecedents  ( 
of,  201-204  ; its  originality,  j 
204-205  ; more  admired  than 
read,  214-215;  sale  of,  214; 
Whigs  and  the  poem,  217  ; 
Milton’s  alleged  plagiarism,  217- 

Paradise  Regained,  14,  17,  18, 

158-159,  161,  173,  186-187, 
191-195,  214 

Paradisus  Amissus  (Hogg),  218 
Parliament,  93,  101,  109 
Pascal,  179 

Passionate  Pilgrim , The , 134 
Pearce,  205 

Peele,  Old  Wives’  Tale , 22 
Penningtons,  the,  158 
Persius,  117  • 

Petrarch,  169,  210 
Petty  France,  97-98,  132,  138 
Phillips,  Edward,  1-4,  40,  44- 
45,  49-50,  56-57,  61,  109,  129, 
132-135,  138  -139,  142  - 144, 
151,  157,  162,  170-171,  193  ; 
Theatrum  Poet  arum,  203 
Phillips,  John,  44,  133-134,  217 
Piedmontese,  massacre  of,  125- 

Pignerol,  treaty  of,  127 
Pindar , 18 
Plague,  the  Great,  159 
Platner,  criticism  of  Hermann, 

Poetical  Decameron  (Collier),  70 
Pope,  A.,  79,  112,  139,  142 
Powell,  R.,  51-52,  61-63,  85-87 
Presbyterians,  59,  82-83,  99,  120 
Prior,  criticism  by,  214 

Pro  populo  Anglicano  defensio, 
106,  107,  109 
Pro  se  defensio , 118 
Prynne,  Histriomastix,  22 
Psalms,  Paraphrase  of  the,  4,  89- 

Ptolemaic  theory,  180 
Puritans,  73,  128,  133,  141,  178- 
179,  196 

Pye,  Sir  R.,  M.P.  for  Woodstock, 

Quakers,  122 
Quintilian,  215 

Racine,  172 
Rainolds,  Dr.,  74 
Ranelagh,  Lady,  132 
Rape  of  Proserpine  (Claudian), 

Ready  and  easy  ivay  to  establish  a 
free  Commonwealth,  72,  138 
Reason  of  Church  Government,  The, 
120,  171 

Regii  sanguinis  clamor  ad  coelum 

(Du  Moulin),  114 
Restoration,  the,  133,  138,  140- 

Rome,  37-39 
Ronsard,  190 

Rouse,  F.,  M.P.  for  Truro,  90 
Rousseau,  112 
Ruskin,  186 

Sadi,  Persian  poet,  191 
St.  Bride’s  churchyard,  43 
St.  Giles’s,  Cripplegate,  164 
St.  John,  95 

Salmasius,  96,  105-109,  114,  210 
Samson  Agonistes , 14,  97,  159, 
161,  177,  186,  195-197,  214 
Satyr  against  Hypocrites  (Phillips), 

Savoy,  Duke  of,  125-128 
Scaliger,  108 
Scherer,  on  Milton,  157 
Scioppius,  108 
Scipioni,  33 

Scott,  Sir  W.,  92,  176,  182,  186 



Scudamore,  Lord,  English  am- 
bassador at  Paris,  34 
Seasons,  The  (Thomson),  28 
Selden,  102,  130,  210 
Shakespeare,  71,  102,176,214,  220 
Shelley,  161,  185 
Shirley,  Triumph  of  Peace,  22 
Shotover,  52,  54 
Sicily,  39 

Sidney,  Arcadia , 103 
Siena,  37 
Sig'onius,  20 
Skinner,  C.,  132,  145 
Skinner,  D.,  154 
Smectymnuus,  4,  76,  210 
Somers,  Lord,  217 
•5 Sonnets , The , 13,  15,  51,  53,  61, 
88-89,  111,  124,  128,  132,  136, 
162,  165,  169-170 
Spain,  126 

Spectator , The  (Addison),  217 
Spenser,  175,  188,  194 
Sportive  Wit , 134 
Stapliorstius,  218 
Star  Chamber,  73,  80-81 
State  of  Innocence  (Dry den),  216 
State  Paper  Office,  155 
Stationers’  Company,  80-81 
Stephens,  R.,  163 
Strafford,  73 

Sylvester,  Du  Bartas,  4,  201 
Symons,  S.,  printer,  160-161 

Tasso,  4,  188 
Taubmannus,  218 
Taylor,  Jeremy,  70-71 

Tenure  of  Kings  and  Magistrates, 

Tetracliordon,  60 

Theatrum  Poetarum  (Phillips), 

Thomson,  Mrs.  Catherine,  88 
Thomson,  James,  author  of  The 
Seasons , 28 
Thurloe,  137 
Todd,  152,  202,  205 
Toland,  151,  154,  164 
Tomkyns,  the  Primate’s  chaplain, 

Tonson,  205 

Tractate  of  Education , 45,  48,  80, 

Treatise  of  Christian  Doctrine,  54, 

155-156,  162 

Trinity  College,  Cambridge,  11  ; 
Milton  MSS.,  144,  171  - 173, 
176,  202 
Twells,  130 

Usher,  Archbishop,  74,  75,  130, 

Vane,  94-95,  120,  162 
Vaudois  massacre,  125-128 
; Vedelin,  75 
Venice,  40,  202 
Villa,  Marquis  of,  38 
Virgil,  26,  205-206,  208 
Vlac,  117 

Voltaire,  112,  201-202,  220 
Vondel,  201,  203-204 
Vortigern,  176 
Voss,  210 

Waller,  E.,  poet,  92 
Waller,  SirW.,  50 
Walton,  B.,  curate  of  Allhallows, 

Walton,  I.,  26 
Wartons,  the,  205 
Weckherlin,  98,  137 
Wentworth,  109 
Westminster  Abbey,  217 
Westminster  Assembly,  101 
Wheatley,  86 
Whigs,  the,  217 
White,  J.,  a chaplain,  136 
Whitelocke,  94-95,  117 
Williams,  Archbishop,  100 
Williamson,  Sir  J. , Secretary  of 
j State,  155 
Wood,  Antony,  2,  34,  38 
Wordsworth,  29,  169,  170,  194- 
195,  208-209 
Wotton,  Sir  H.,  33 
Wright,  Dr.,  a clergyman,  150 

Young,  P.,  212 
i Young,  T.,  tutor,  4,  5 

Printed  by  R.  & R.  Clark,  Limited,  Edinburgh 

tiPttglfeft  iHni  of  Hetters 







Richard  Clay  and  Sons,  Limited, 


First  Edition  1873. 

Reprinted  1879,^1880,  1881,  1883,  1887,  1893,  1893,  1899,  1900, 
1903,  1905,  1909. 

















PERSONAL  TRAITS  . . . . „ . „ ....  , 44 




THE  ARREST  . 0 . 67 


THE  TRAVELLER  ........  . . , 75 













THE  DESERTED  VILLAGE . . * , . 120 


OCCASIONAL  WRITINGS  „ . . . .......  134 


SHE  STOOPS  TO  CONQUER  . , , . , .....  141 






“ Innocently  to  amuse  the  imagination  in  this  dream 
of  life  is  wisdom.”  So  wrote  Oliver  Goldsmith ; and 
surely  among  those  who  have  earned  the  world’s  grati- 
tude by  this  ministration  he  must  be  accorded  a con- 
spicuous place.  If,  in  these  delightful  writings  of  his, 
he  mostly  avoids  the  darker  problems  of  existence — if 
the  mystery  of  the  tragic  and  apparently  unmerited 
and  unrequited  suffering  in  the  world  is  rarely  touched 
upon — we  can  pardon  the  omission  for  the  sake  of  the 
gentle  optimism  that  would  rather  look  on  the  kindly 
side  of  life.  “ You  come  hot  and  tired  from  the  day’s 
battle,  and  this  sweet  minstrel  sings  to  you,”  says 
Mr.  Thackeray.  “ Who  could  harm  the  kind  vagrant 
harper  1 Whom  did  he  ever  hurt  1 He  carries  no 
weapon  save  the  harp  on  which  he  plays  to  you ; and 
with  which  he  delights  great  and  humble,  young  and 
old,  the  captains  in  the  tents,  or  the  soldiers  round  the 





fire,  or  the  women  and  children  in  the  villages,  at  whose 
porches  he  stops  and  sings  his  simple  songs  of  love  and 
beauty,”  And  it  is  to  be  suspected — it  is  to  be  hoped, 
at  least — that  the  cheerfulness  which  shines  like  sun- 
light through  Goldsmith’s  writings,  did  not  altogether 
desert  himself  even  in  the  most  trying  hours  of  his 
wayward  and  troubled  career.  He  had,  with  all  his 
sensitiveness,  a fine  happy-go-lucky  disposition ; was 
ready  for  a frolic  when  he  had  a guinea,  and,  when  he 
had  none,  could  turn  a sentence  on  the  humorous  side 
of  starvation ; and  certainly  never  attributed  to  the 
injustice  or  neglect  of  society  misfortunes  the  origin 
of  which  lay  nearer  home. 

Of  course,  a very  dark  picture  might  be  drawn  of 
Goldsmith’s  life  ; and  the  sufferings  that  he  undoubtedly 
endured  have  been  made  a whip  with  which  to  lash  the 
ingratitude  of  a world  not  too  quick  to  recognise  the 
claims  of  genius.  He  has  been  put  before  us,  without 
any  brighter  lights  to  the  picture,  as  the  most  unfor- 
tunate of  poor  devils ; the  heart-broken  usher ; the 
hack  ground  down  by  sordid  booksellers  ; the  starving 
occupant  of  successive  garrets.  This  is  the  aspect  of 
Goldsmith’s  career  which  naturally  attracts  Mr.  Forster. 
Mr0  Forster  seems  to  have  been  haunted  throughout  his 
life  by  the  idea  that  Providence  had  some  especial  spite 
against  literary  persons ; and  that,  in  a measure  to  com- 
pensate them  for  their  sad  lot,  society  should  be  very  kind 
to  them,  while  the  Government  of  the  day  might  make 
them  Companions  of  the  Bath  or  give  them  posts  in  the 
Civil  Service.  In  the  otherwise  copious,  thorough,  and 
valuable  Life  and  Times  of  Oliver  Goldsmith , we  find  an 
almost  humiliating  insistance  on  the  complaint  that 


Oliver  Goldsmith  did  not  receive  greater  recognition 
and  larger  sums  of  money  from  his  contemporaries. 
Goldsmith  is  here  “ the  poor  neglected  sizar  ” ; his 
4 4 marked  ill-fortune  ” attends  him  constantly  ; he  shares 
“ the  evil  destinies  of  men  of  letters  ” ; he  was  one  of 
those  who  “ struggled  into  fame  without  the  aid  of 
English  institutions  ” ; in  short,  “ he  wrote,  and  paid  the 
penalty.”  Nay,  even  Christianity  itself  is  impeached 
on  account  of  the  persecution  suffered  by  poor  Gold- 
smith. “ There  had  been  a Christian  religion  extant 
for  seventeen-hundred  and  fifty-seven  years,”  writes  Mr. 
Forster,  “ the  world  having  been  acquainted,  for  even  so 
long,  with  its  spiritual  necessities  and  responsibilities ; 
yet  here,  in  the  middle  of  the  eighteenth  century,  was 
the  eminence  ordinarily  conceded  to  a spiritual  teacher, 
to  one  of  those  men  who  come  upon  the  earth  to  lift 
their  fellow-men  above  its  miry  ways.  He  is  up  in  a 
garret,  writing  for  bread  he  cannot  get,  and  dunned  for 
a milk-score  he  cannot  pay.”  That  Christianity  might 
have  been  worse  employed  than  in  paying  the  milkman’s 
score  is  true  enough,  for  then  the  milkman  would  have 
come  by  his  own ; but  that  Christianity,  or  the  state,  or 
society  should  be  scolded  because  an  author  suffers  the 
natural  consequences  of  his  allowing  his  expenditure 
to  exceed  his  income,  seems  a little  hard.  And  this  is 
a sort  of  writing  that  is  peculiarly  inappropriate  in 
the  case  of  Goldsmith,  who,  if  ever  any  man  was  author 
of  his  own  misfortunes,  may  fairly  have  the  charge 
brought  against  him.  “ Men  of  genius,”  says  Mr. 
Forster,  “ can  more  easily  starve,  than  the  world,  with 
safety  to  itself,  can  continue  to  neglect  and  starve 
them*”  Perhaps  so;  but  the  English  nation,  which 

b 2 




has  always  had  a regard  and  even  love  for  Oliver  Gold- 
smith, that  is  quite  peculiar  in  the  history  of  literature, 
and  which  has  been  glad  to  overlook  his  faults  and 
follies,  and  eager  to  sympathise  with  him  in  the  many 
miseries  of  his  career,  will  be  slow  to  believe  that  it 
is  responsible  for  any  starvation  that  Goldsmith  may 
have  endured. 

However,  the  key-note  has  been  firmly  struck,  and  it 
still  vibrates.  Goldsmith  was  the  unluckiest  of  mortals, 
the  hapless  victim  of  circumstances.  “ Yielding  to  that 
united  pressure  of  labour,  penury,  and  sorrow,  with 
a frame  exhausted  by  unremitting  and  ill-rewarded 
drudgery,  Goldsmith  was  indebted  to  the  forbearance 
of  creditors  for  a peaceful  burial.”  But  what,  now, 
if  some  foreigner  strange  to  the  traditions  of  English 
literature — some  Japanese  student,  for  example,  or  the 
New  Zealander  come  before  his  time — were  to  go  over 
the  ascertained  facts  of  Goldsmith's  life,  and  were 
suddenly  to  announce  to  us,  with  the  happy  audacity 
of  ignorance,  that  he,  Goldsmith,  was  a quite  ex- 
ceptionally fortunate  person  % “ Why/’  he  might  say,  “ I 
find  that  in  a country  where  the  vast  majority  of  people 
are  born  to  labour,  Oliver  Goldsmith  was  never  asked 
to  do  a stroke  of  work  towards  the  earning  of  his  own 
living  until  he  had  arrived  at  man’s  estate.  All  that 
was  expected  of  him,  as  a youth  and  as  a young  man, 
was  that  he  should  equip  himself  fully  for  the  battle  of 
life.  He  was  maintained  at  college  until  he  had  taken 
his  degree.  Again  and  again  he  was  furnished  with 
funds  for  further  study  and  foreign  travel ; and  again 
and  again  he  gambled  his  opportunities  away.  The 
constant  kindness  of  his  uncle  only  made  him  the  best 



begging-letter  writer  the  world  has  seen.  In  the  midst 
of  his  debt  and  distress  as  a bookseller’s  drudge,  he 
receives  £400  for  three  nights’  performance  of  The 
Good-Natured  Man  ; he  immediately  purchases  chambers 
in  Brick  Court  for  £400  ; and  forthwith  begins  to 
borrow  as  before.  It  is  true  that  he  died  owing  £2000, 
and  was  indebted  to  the  forbearance  of  creditors  for  a 
peaceful  burial ; but  it  appears  that  during  the  last 
seven  years  of  his  life  he  had  been  earning  an  annual 
income  equivalent  to  £800  of  English  currency.1  He 
was  a man  liberally  and  affectionately  brought  up,  who 
had  many  relatives  and  many  friends,  and  who  had  the 
proud  satisfaction — which  has  been  denied  to  many  men 
of  genius — of  knowing  for  years  before  he  died  that  his 
merits  as  a writer  had  been  recognised  by  the  great 
bulk  of  his  countrymen.  And  yet  this  strange  English 
nation  is  inclined  to  suspect  that  it  treated  him  rather 
badly ; and  Christianity  is  attacked  because  it  did  not 
pay  Goldsmith’s  milkscore.” 

Our  Japanese  friend  may  be  exaggerating  ; but  his 
position  is  after  all  fairly  tenable.  It  may  at  least 
be  looked  at,  before  entering  on  the  following  brief 
resume  of  the  leading  facts  in  Goldsmith’s  life,  if  only 
to  restore  our  equanimity.  For,  naturally,  it  is  not 
pleasant  to  think  that  any  previous  generation,  however 
neglectful  of  the  claims  of  literary  persons  (as  com- 
pared with  the  claims  of  such  wretched  creatures  as 
physicians,  men  of  science,  artists,  engineers,  and  so 

1 The  calculation  is  Lord  Macaulay’s : see  his  Biograiiliical 



[chap.  i. 

forth)  should  so  cruelly  have  ill-treated  one  whom  we 
all  love  now.  This  inheritance  of  ingratitude  is  more 
than  we  can  bear.  Is  it  true  that  Goldsmith  was  so 
harshly  dealt  with  by  those  barbarian  ancestors  of 
ours  h 



The  Goldsmiths  were  of  English  descent;  Goldsmith’s 
father  was  a Protestant  clergyman  in  a poor  little  vil- 
lage in  the  county  of  Longford  ; and  when  Oliver,  one 
of  several  children,  was  born  in  this  village  of  Pallas, 
or  Pallasmore,  on  the  10th  November,  1728,  the  Rev. 
Charles  Goldsmith  was  passing  rich  on  £40  a year.  But 
a couple  of  years  later  Mr.  Goldsmith  succeeded  to  a 
more  lucrative  living ; and  forthwith  removed  his  family 
to  the  village  of  Lissoy,  in  the  county  of  Westmeath. 

Here  at  once  our  interest  in  the  story  begins  : is  this 
Lissoy  the  sweet  Auburn  that  we  have  known  and  loved 
since  our  childhood  1 Lord  Macaulay,  with  a great 
deal  of  vehemence,  avers  that  it  is  not ; that  there 
never  was  any  such  hamlet  as  Auburn  in  Ireland ; 
that  The  Deserted  Village  is  a hopelessly  incongruous 
poem ; and  that  Goldsmith,  in  combining  a descrip- 
tion of  a probably  Kentish  village  with  a description 
of  an  Irish  ejectment,  “has  produced  something  which 
never  was,  and  never  will  be,  seen  in  any  part  of  the 
world.”  This  criticism  is  ingenious  and  plausible, 
but  it  is  unsound,  for  it  happens  to  overlook  one  of 



the  radical  facts  of  human  nature — the  magnifying 
delight  of  the  mind  in  what  is  long  remembered  and 
remote.  What  was  it  that  the  imagination  of  Goldsmith, 
in  his  life-long  banishment,  could  not  see  when  he 
looked  back  to  the  home  of  his  childhood,  and  his  early 
friends,  and  the  sports  and  occupations  of  his  youth  % 
Lissoy  was  no  doubt  a poor  enough  Irish  village  ; and 
perhaps  the  farms  were  not  too  well  cultivated ; and 
perhaps  the  village  preacher,  who  was  so  dear  to  all 
the  country  round,  had  to  administer  many  a thrashing 
to  a certain  graceless  son  of  his  • and  perhaps  Paddy 
Byrne  was  something  of  a pedant ; and  no  doubt  pigs 
ran  over  the  “ nicely  sanded  floor  ” of  the  inn  ; and  no 
doubt  the  village  statesmen  occasionally  indulged  in 
a free  fight.  But  do  you  think  that  was  the  Lissoy  that 
Goldsmith  thought  of  in  his  dreary  lodgings  in  Fleet- 
Street  courts  1 No.  It  was  the  Lissoy  where  the 
vagrant  lad  had  first  seen  the  “ primrose  peep  beneath 
the  thorn  ” ; where  he  had  listened  to  the  mysterious 
call  of  the  bittern  by  the  unfrequented  river ; it  was 
a Lissoy  still  ringing  with  the  glad  laughter  of  young 
people  in  the  twilight  hours ; it  was  a Lissoy  for  ever 
beautiful,  and  tender,  and  far  away.  The  grown-up 
Goldsmith  had  npt  to  go  to  any  Kentish  village  for  a 
model ; the  familiar  scenes  of  his  youth,  regarded  with 
all  the  wistfulness  and  longing  of  an  exile,  became 
glorified  enough.  “ If  I go  to  the  opera  where  Signora 
Colomba  pours  out  all  the  mazes  of  melody,”  he  writes 
to  Mr.  Hodson,  “ I sit  and  sigh  for  Lissoy’s  fire  side, 
and  Johnny  Armstrong' s Last  Good  Night  from  Peggy 

There  was  but  little  in  the  circumstances  of  Gold- 




smith’s  early  life  likely  to  fit  him  for,  or  to  lead  him 
into,  a literary  career ; in  fact,  he  did  not  take  to 
literature  until  he  had  tried  pretty  nearly  everything 
else  as  a method  of  earning  a living.  If  he  was  in- 
tended for  anything,  it  was  no  doubt  his  father’s 
wish  that  he  should  enter  the  Church ; and  he  got 
such  education  as  the  poor  Irish  clergyman — who  was 
not  a very  provident  person^- could  afford.  The  child 
Goldsmith  was  first  of  all  taught  his  alphabet  at  home, 
by  a maid- servant,  who  was  also  a relation  of  the  family  ; 
then,  at  the  age  of  six,  he  was  sent  to  that  village  school 
which,  with  its  profound  and  learned  master,  he  has 
made  familiar  to  all  of  us ; and  after  that  he  was  sent 
further  a-field  for  his  learning,  being  moved  from  this  to 
the  other  boarding-school  as  the  occasion  demanded. 
Goldsmith’s  school-life  could  not  have  been  altogether  a 
pleasant  time  for  him.  We  hear,  indeed,  of  his  being 
concerned  in  a good  many  frolics — robbing  orchards, 
and  the  like  ; and  it  is  said  that  he  attained  proficiency 
in  the  game  of  fives.  But  a shy  and  sensitive  lad 
like  Goldsmith,  who  was  eagerly  desirous  of  being 
thought  well  of,  and  whose  appearance  only  invited  the 
thoughtless  but  cruel  ridicule  of  his  schoolmates,  must 
have  suffered  a good  deal.  He  was  little,  pitted  with 
the  small-pox,  and  awkward ; and  schoolboys  are 
amazingly  frank.  He  was  not  strong  enough  to  thrash 
them  into  respect  of  him  ; he  had  no  big  brother  to 
become  his  champion  ; his  pocket  money  was  not  lavish 
enough  to  enable  him  to  buy  over  enemies  or  subsidise 

In  similar  circumstances  it  has  sometimes  happened 
that  a boy  physically  inferior  to  his  companions  has 




consoled  himself  by  proving  his  mental  prowess — has 
scored  off  his  failure  at  cricket  by  the  taking  of  prizes,  and 
has  revenged  himself  for  a drubbing  by  writing  a lampoon. 
But  even  this  last  resource  was  not  open  to  Goldsmith. 
He  was  a dull  boy;  “a  stupid,  heavy  blockhead,’ ’ is 
Dr.  Strean’s  phrase  in  summing  up  the  estimate  formed 
of  young  Goldsmith  by  his  contemporaries  at  school. 
Of  course,  as  soon  as  he  became  famous,  everybody 
began  to  hunt  up  re  collections  of  his  having  said  or 
done  this  or  that,  in  order  to  prove  that  there  were 
signs  of  the  coming  greatness.  People  began  to  re- 
member that  he  had  been  suspected  of  scribbling 
verses,  which  he  burned.  What  schoolboy  has  not 
done  the  like  ? We  know  how  the  biographers  of 
great  painters  point  out  to  us  that  their  hero  early 
showed  the  bent  of  his  mind  by  drawing  the  figures 
of  animals  on  doors  and  walls  with  a piece  of  chalk ; 
as  to  which  it  may  be  observed  that,  if  every  schoolboy 
who  scribbled  verses  and  sketched  in  chalk  on  a brick 
wall,  were  to  grow  up  a genius,  poems  and  pictures 
would  be  plentiful  enough.  However,  there  is  the 
apparently  authenticated  anecdote  of  young  Goldsmith’s 
turning  the  tables  on  the  fiddler  at  his  uncle’s  dancing- 
party.  The  fiddler,  struck  by  the  odd  look  of  the  boy 
who  was  capering  about  the  room,  called  out  u iEsop  ! ” 
whereupon  Goldsmith  is  said  to  have  instantly  replied, 

“ Our  herald  hath  proclaimed  this  saying, 

See  HSsop  dancing  and  his  monkey  playing  ! ” 

But  even  if  this  story  be  true,  it  is  worth  nothing  as  an 
augury  ; for  quickness  of  repartee  was  precisely  the  ac- 
complishment which  the  adult  Goldsmith  conspicuously 




lacked.  Put  a pen  into  his  hand,  and  shut  him  up 
in  a room : then  he  was  master  of  the  situation — 
nothing  could  be  more  incisive,  polished,  and  easy  than 
his  playful  sarcasm.  But  in  society  any  fool  could  get 
the  better  of  him  by  a sudden  question  followed  by  a 
horse-laugh.  All  through  his  life — even  after  he  had 
become  one  of  the  most  famous  of  living  writers — 
Goldsmith  suffered  from  want  of  self-confidence.  He 
was  too  anxious  to  please.  In  his  eager  acquiescence, 
he  would  blunder  into  any  trap  that  was  laid  for  him. 
A grain  or  two  of  the  stolid  self-sufficiency  of  the 
blockheads  who  laughed  at  him  would  not  only  have 
improved  his  character,  but  would  have  considerably 
added  to  the  happiness  of  his  life. 

As  a natural  consequence  of  this  timidity,  Goldsmith, 
when  opportunity  served,  assumed  airs  of  magnificent 
importance.  Every  one  knows  the  story  of  the  mistake 
on  which  She  Stooqjs  to  Conquer  is  founded.  Getting 
free  at  last  from  all  the  turmoil,  and  anxieties,  and 
mortifications  of  school-life,  and  returning  home  on  a 
lent  hack,  the  released  schoolboy  is  feeling  very  grand 
indeed.  He  is  now  sixteen,  would  fain  pass  for  a man, 
and  has  a whole  golden  guinea  in  his  pocket.  And  so 
he  takes  the  journey  very  leisurely  until,  getting  be- 
nighted in  a certain  village,  he  asks  the  way  to  the 
“ best  house,”  and  is  directed  by  a facetious  person  to 
the  house  of  the  squire.  The  squire  by  good  luck  falls 
in  with  the  joke ; and  then  we  have  a very  pretty 
comedy  indeed — the  impecunious  schoolboy  playing  the 
part  of  a fine  gentleman  on  the  strength  of  his  solitary 
guinea,  ordering  a bottle  of  wine  after  his  supper,  and 
inviting  his  landlord  and  his  landlord’s  wife  and  daughter 




to  join  him  in  the  supper-room.  The  contrast,  in  She 
Stoops  to  Conquer , between  Marlow’s  embarrassed  diffi- 
dence on  certain  occasions  and  his  audacious  effrontery 
on  others,  found  many  a parallel  in  the  incidents  of 
Goldsmith’s  own  life;  and  it  is  not  improbable  that 
the  writer  of  the  comedy  was  thinking  of  some  of  his 
own  experiences,  when  he  made  Miss  Hardcastle  say 
to  her  timid  suitor  : “ A want  of  courage  upon  some 
occasions  assumes  the  appearance  of  ignorance,  and 
betrays  us  when  we  most  want  to  excel.” 

It  was,  perhaps,  just  as  well  that  the  supper,  and 
bottle  of  wine,  and  lodging  at  Squire  Featherston’s  had 
not  to  be  paid  for  out  of  the  schoolboy’s  guinea;  for 
young  Goldsmith  was  now  on  his  way  to  college,  and 
the  funds  at  the  disposal  of  the  Goldsmith  family 
were  not  over  abundant.  Goldsmith’s  sister  having 
married  the  son  of  a well-to  do  man,  her  father  con- 
sidered it  a point  of  honour  that  she  should  have  a 
dowry  : and  in  giving  her  a sum  of  £400  he  so  crippled 
the  means  of  the  family,  that  Goldsmith  had  to  be  sent 
to  college  not  as  a pensioner  but  as  a sizar.  It  appears 
that  the  young  gentleman’s  pride  revolted  against  this 
proposal ; and  that  he  was  won  over  to  consent  only  by 
the  persuasions  of  his  uncle  Contarine,  who  himself  had 
been  a sizar.  So  Goldsmith,  now  in  his  eighteenth  year, 
went  to  Dublin  ; managed  somehow  or  other — though 
he  was  the  last  in  the  list — to  pass  the  necessary  exami- 
nation ; and  entered  upon  his  college  career  (1745.) 

How  he  lived,  and  what  he  learned,  at  Trinity  Col- 
lege. are  both  largely  matters  of  conjecture ; the  chief 
features  of  such  record  as  we  have  are  the  various 
means  of  raising  a little  money  to  which  the  poor 


sizar  had  to  resort;  a continual  quarrelling  with  his 
tutor,  an  ill-conditioned  brute,  who  baited  Goldsmith 
and  occasionally  beat  him  ; and  a chance  frolic  when 
funds  were  forthcoming.  It  was  while  he  was  at 
Trinity  College  that  his  father  died;  so  that  Gold- 
smith was  rendered  more  than  ever  dependent  on  the 
kindness  of  his  uncle  Contarine,  who  throughout  seems 
to  have  taken  much  interest  in  his  odd,  ungainty 
nephew.  A loan  from  a friend  or  a visit  to  the 
pawnbroker  tided  over  the  severer  difficulties ; and 
then  from  time  to  time  the  writing  of  street- ballads, 
for  which  he  got  five  shillings  a-piece  at  a certain 
repository,  came  in  to  help.  It  was  a happy-go-lucky, 
hand  to -mouth  sort  of  existence,  involving  a good  deal 
of  hardship  and  humiliation,  but  having  its  frolics  and 
gaieties  notwithstanding.  One  of  these  was  pretty  near 
to  putting  an  end  to  his  collegiate  career  altogether. 
He  had,  smarting  under  a public  admonition  for  having 
been  concerned  in  a riot,  taken  seriously  to  his  studies 
and  had  competed  for  a scholarship.  He  missed  the 
scholarship,  but  gained  an  exhibition  of  the  value  of 
thirty  shillings ; whereupon  he  collected  a number  of 
friends  of  both  sexes  in  his  rooms,  and  proceeded  to 
have  high  jinks  there.  In  the  midst  of  the  dancing 
and  uproar,  in  comes  his  tutor,  in  such  a passion  that 
he  knocks  Goldsmith  down.  This  insult,  received 
before  his  friends,  was  too  much  for  the  unlucky  sizar, 
who,  the  very  next  day,  sold  his  books,  ran  away  from 
college,  and  ultimately,  after  having  been  on  the  verge 
of  starvation  once  or  twice,  made  his  way  to  Lissoy. 
Here  his  brother  got  hold  of  him  ; persuaded  him  to 
go  back ; and  the  escapade  was  condoned  somehow. 



Goldsmith  remained  at  Trinity  College  until  he  took  his 
degree  (1749.)  He  was  again  lowest  in  the  list;  but 
still  he  had  passed ; and  he  must  have  learned  some- 
thing. He  was  now  twenty-one,  with  all  the  world 
before  him  ; and  the  question  was  as  to  how  he  was 
to  employ  such  knowledge  as  he  had  acquired. 



But  Goldsmith  was  not  in  any  hurry  to  acquire  either 
wealth  or  fame.  He  had  a happy  knack  of  enjoying 
the  present  hour — especially  when  there  were  one  or 
two  boon  companions  with  him,  and  a pack  of  cards 
to  be  found ; and,  after  his  return  to  his  mother’s 
house,  he  appears  to  have  entered  upon  the  business  of 
idleness  with  much  philosophical  satisfaction.  If  he 
was  not  quite  such  an  unlettered  clown  as  he  has 
described  in  Tony  Lumpkin,  he  had  at  least  all  Tony 
Lumpkin’s  high  spirits  and  love  of  joking  and  idling ; 
and  he  was  surrounded  at  the  ale-house  by  just  such  a 
company  of  admirers  as  used  to  meet  at  the  famous 
Three  Pigeons.  Sometimes  he  helped  in  his  brother’s 
school ; sometimes  he  went  errands  for  his  mother ; 
occasionally  he  would  sit  and  meditatively  play  the 
flute — for  the  day  was  to  be  passed  somehow  3 then  in 
the  evening  came  the  assemblage  in  Conway’s  inn,  with 
the  glass,  and  the  pipe,  and  the  cards,  and  the  uproarious 
jest  or  song.  “But  Scripture  saith  an  ending  to  all 
fine  things  must  be,”  and  the  friends  of  this  jovial 
young  “ buckeen  ” began  to  tire  of  his  idleness  and  his 




recurrent  visits.  They  gave  him  hints  that  he  might  set 
about  doing  something  to  provide  himself  with  a living ; 
and  the  first  thing  they  thought  of  was  that  he  should 
go  into  the  Church — perhaps  as  a sort  of  purification- 
house  after  George  Conway’s  inn.  Accordingly  Gold- 
smith, who  appears  to  have  been  a most  good-natured 
and  compliant  youth,  did  make  application  to  the 
Bishop  of  Elphin.  There  is  some  doubt  about  the 
precise  reasons  which  induced  the  Bishop  to  decline 
Goldsmith’s  application,  but  at  any  rate  the  Church 
was  denied  the  aid  of  the  young  man’s  eloquence  and 
erudition.  Then  he  tried  teaching,  and  through  the 
good  offices  of  his  uncle  he  obtained  a tutorship  which 
he  held  for  a considerable  time — long  enough,  indeed,  to 
enable  him  to  amass  a sum  of  thirty  pounds.  When  he 
quarrelled  with  his  patron,  and  once  more  “took  the 
world  for  his  pillow,”  as  the  Gaelic  stories  say,  he  had 
this  sum  in  his  pocket  and  was  possessed  of  a good 

He  started  away  from  Ballymahon,  where  his 
mother  was  now  living,  with  some  vague  notion  of 
making  his  fortune  as  casual  circumstance  might 
direct.  The  expedition  came  to  a premature  end ; 
and  he  returned  without  the  money,  and  on  the  back  of 
a wretched  animal,  telling  his  mother  a cock-and-bull 
story  of  the  most  amusing  simplicity.  “ If  Uncle 
Contarine  believed  those  letters,”  says  Mr.  Thackeray, 

“ if  Oliver’s  mother  believed  that  story  which  the 

youth  related  of  his  going  to  Cork,  with  the  purpose  of 
embarking  for  America ; of  his  having  paid  his  passage- 
money.  and  having  sent  his  kit  on  board  ; of  the  anony- 
mous captain  sailing  away  with  Oliver’s  valuable 




luggage,  in  a nameless  ship,  never  to  return  ; if  Uncle 
Contarine  and  the  mother  at  Ballymahon  believed  his 
stories,  they  must  have  been  a very  simple  pair;  as  it 
was  a very  simple  rogue  indeed  who  cheated  them.” 
Indeed,  if  any  one  is  anxious  to  fill  up  this  hiatus  in 
Goldsmith’s  life,  the  best  thing  he  cam  do  is  to  discard 
Goldsmith’s  suspicious  record  of  his  adventures,  and 
put  in  its  place  the  faithful  record  of  the  adventures 
of  Mr.  Barry  Lyndon,  when  that  modest  youth  left  his 
mother’s  house  and  rode  to  Dublin,  with  a certain 
number  of  guineas  in  his  pocket.  But  whether  Uncle 
Contarine  believed  the  story  or  no,  he  was  ready  to  give 
the  young  gentleman  another  chance ; and  this  time  it 
was  the  legal  profession  that  was  chosen.  Goldsmith  got 
fifty  pounds  from  his  uncle,  and  reached  Dublin.  In  a 
remarkably  brief  space  of  time  he  had  gambled  away  the 
fifty  pounds,  and  was  on  his  way  back  to  Ballymahon, 
where  his  mother’s  reception  of  him  was  not  very 
cordial,  though  his  uncle  forgave  him,  and  was  once 
more  ready  to  start  him  in  life.  But  in  what  direction  1 
Teaching,  the  Church,  and  the  law  had  lost  their  attrac- 
tions for  him.  Well,  this  time  it  was  medicine.  In 
fact,  any  sort  of  project  was  capable  of  drawing  forth 
the  good  old  uncle’s  bounty.  The  funds  were  again 
forthcoming ; Goldsmith  started  for  Edinburgh,  and 
now  (1752)  saw  Ireland  for  the  last  time. 

He  lived,  and  he  informed  his  uncle  that  he  studied, 
in  Edinburgh  for  a year  and  a half ; at  the  end  of 
which  time  it  appeared  to  him  that  his  knowledge  of 
medicine  would  be  much  improved  by  foreign  travel. 
There  was  Albinus,  for  example,  “ the  great  professor 
of  Leyden,”  as  he  wrote  to  the  credulous  uncle,  from 





whom  he  would  doubtless  learn  much.  When,  having 
got  another  twenty  pounds  for  travelling  expenses,  he  did 
reach  Leyden  (1754),  he  mentioned  Gaubius,  the  chemical 
professor.  Gaubius  is  also  a good  name.  That  his  inter- 
course with  these  learned  persons,  and  the  serious  nature 
of  his  studies,  were  not  incompatible  with  a little  light 
relaxation  in  the  way  of  gambling  is  not  impossible. 
On  one  occasion,  it  is  said,  he  was  so  lucky  that  he 
came  to  a fellow  student  with  his  pockets  full  of  money ; 
and  was  induced  to  resolve  never  to  play  again — a 
resolution  broken  about  as  soon  as  made.  Of  course 
he  lost  all  his  winnings,  and  more ; and  had  to  borrow 
a trifling  sum  to  get  himself  out  of  the  place.  Then 
an  incident  occurs  which  is  highly  characteristic  of  the 
better  side  of  Goldsmith’s  nature.  He  had  just  got 
this  money,  and  was  about  to  leave  Leyden,  when,  as 
Mr.  Forster  writes,  “ he  passed  a florist’s  garden  on  his 
return,  and  seeing  some  rare  and  high-priced  flower, 
which  his  uncle  Contarine,  an  enthusiast  in  such  things, 
had  often  spoken  and  been  in  search  of,  he  ran  in  with- 
out other  thought  than  of  immediate  pleasure  to  his 
kindest  friend,  bought  a parcel  of  the  roots,  and  sent 
them  off  to  Ireland.”  He  had  a guinea  in  his  pocket 
when  he  started  on  the  grand  tour. 

Of  this  notable  period  in  Goldsmith’s  life  (1755-6)  very 
little  is  known,  though  a good  deal  has  been  guessed.  A 
minute  record  of  all  the  personal  adventures  that  befell 
the  wayfarer  as  he  trudged  from  country  to  country,  a 
diary  of  the  odd  humours  and  fancies  that  must  have 
occurred  to  him  in  his  solitary  pilgrimages,  would  be  of 
quite  inestimable  value ; but  even  the  letters  that  Gold- 
smith wrote  home  from  time  to  time  are  lost ; while  The 


Traveller  consists  chiefly  of  a series  of  philosophical 
reflections  on  the  government  of  various  states,  more 
likely  to  have  engaged  the  attention  of  a Fleet  street 
author,  living  in  an  atmosphere  of  books,  than  to  have 
occupied  the  mind  of  a tramp  anxious  about  his  supper 
and  his  night’s  lodging.  Boswell  says  he  “ disputed  ” 
his  way  through  Europe.  It  is  much  more  probable 
that  he  begged  his  way  through  Europe.  The  romantic 
version,  which  has  been  made  the  subject  of  many  a 
charming  picture,  is  that  he  was  entertained  by  the 
peasantry  whom  he  had  delighted  with  his  playing  on 
the  flute.  It  is  quite  probable  that  Goldsmith,  whose 
imagination  had  been  captivated  by  the  story  of  how 
Baron  von  Holberg  had  as  a young  man  really  passed 
through  France,  Germany,  and  Holland  in  this  Orpheus- 
like  manner,  may  have  put  a flute  in  his  pocket  when  he 
left  Leyden ; but  it  is  far  from  safe  to  assume,  as  is 
generally  done,  that  Goldsmith  was  himself  the  hero  of 
the  adventures  described  in  Chapter  xx.  of  the  Vicar  of 
Wakefield.  It  is  the  more  to  be  regretted  that  we  have 
no  authentic  record  of  these  devious  wanderings,  that 
by  this  time  Goldsmith  had  acquired,  as  is  shown  in 
other  letters,  a polished,  easy,  and  graceful  style,  with 
a very  considerable  faculty  of  humorous  observation. 
Those  ingenious  letters  to  his  uncle  (they  usually 
included  a little  hint  about  money)  were,  in  fact,  a 
trifle  too  literary  both  in  substance  and  in  form ; we 
could  even  now,  looking  at  them  with  a pardonable 
curiosity,  have  spared  a little  of  their  formal  antithesis 
for  some  more  precise  information  about  the  writer  and 
his  surroundings. 

The  strangest  thing  about  this  strange  journey  all  over 

c 2 




Europe  was  the  failure  of  Goldsmith  to  pick  up  even  a 
common  and  ordinary  acquaintance  with  the  familiar  facts 
of  natural  history.  The  ignorance  on  this  point  of  the 
author  of  the  Animated  Nature  was  a constant  subject  of 
jest  among  Goldsmith’s  friends.  They  declared  he  could 
not  tell  the  difference  between  any  two  sorts  of  barndoor 
fowl  until  he  saw  them  cooked  and  on  the  table.  But  it 
may  be  said  prematurely  here  that,  even  when  he  is 
wrong  as  to  his  facts  or  his  sweeping  generalisations, 
one  is  inclined  to  forgive  him  on  account  of  the  quaint 
gracefulness  and  point  of  his  style.  When  Mr.  Burchell 
says,  “ This  rule  seems  to  extend  even  to  other  animals: 
the  little  vermin  race  are  ever  treacherous,  cruel,  and 
cowardly,  whilst  those  endowed  with  strength  and 
power  are  generous,  brave,  and  gentle,”  we  scarcely 
stop  to  reflect  that  the  merlin,  which  is  not  much  bigger 
than  a thrush,  has  an  extraordinary  courage  and  spirit, 
while  the  lion,  if  all  stories  be  true,  is,  unless  when 
goaded  by  hunger,  an  abject  skulker.  Elsewhere,  indeed, 
in  the  Animated  Nature , Goldsmith  gives  credit  to  the 
smaller  birds  for  a good  deal  of  valour,  and  then 
goes  on  to  say,  with  a charming  freedom, — uBut  their 
contentions  are  sometimes  of  a gentler  nature.  Two 
male  birds  shall  strive  in  song  till,  after  a long 
struggle,  the  loudest  shall  entirely  silence  the  other. 
During  these  contentions  the  female  sits  an  attentive 
silent  auditor,  and  often  rewards  the  loudest  songster 
with  her  company  during  the  season.”  Yet  even  this 
description  of  the  battle  of  the  bards,  with  the  queen  of 
love  as  arbiter,  is  scarcely  so  amusing  as  his  happy- 
go-lucky  notions  with  regard  to  the  variability  of 
species.  The  philosopher,  flute  in  hand,  who  went 


wandering  from  the  canals  of  Holland  to  the  ice  ribbed 
falls  of  the  Rhine,  may  have  heard  from  time  to  time 
that  contest  between  singing-birds  which  he  so  imagin- 
atively describes ; but  it  was  clearly  the  Fleet-Street 
author,  living  among  books,  who  arrived  at  the  con- 
clusion that  intermarriage  of  species  is  common  among 
small  birds  and  rare  among  big  birds.  Quoting  some 
lines  of  Addison’s  which  express  the  belief  that  birds 
are  a virtuous  race — that  the  nightingale,  for  example, 
does  not  covet  the  wife  of  his  neighbour,  the  blackbird 
— Goldsmith  goes  on  to  observe, — “But  whatever  may 
be  the  poet’s  opinion,  the  probability  is  against  this 
fidelity  among  the  smaller  tenants  of  the  grove.  The 
great  birds  are  much  more  true  to  their  species  than 
these;  and,  of  consequence,  the  varieties  among  them 
are  more  few.  Of  the  ostrich,  the  cassowary,  and  the 
eagle,  there  are  but  few  species  ; and  no  arts  that  man 
can  use  could  probably  induce  them  to  mix  with  each 

What  he  did  bring  back  from  his  foreign  travels 
was  a medical  degree.  Where  he  got  it,  and  how 
he  got  it,  are  alike  matters  of  pure  conjecture  ; but 
it  is  extremely  improbable  that — whatever  he  might 
have  been  willing  to  write  home  from  Padua  or 
Louvain,  in  order  to  coax  another  remittance  from  his 
Irish  friends — he  would  afterwards,  in  the  presence  of 
such  men  as  Johnson,  Burke,  and  Reynolds,  wear  sham 
honours.  It  is  much  more  probable  that,  on  his  finding 
those  supplies  from  Ireland  running  ominously  short, 
the  philosophic  vagabond  determined  to  prove  to  his 
correspondents  that  he  was  really  at  work  somewhere, 
instead  of  merely  idling  away  his  time,  begging  or 



[CH.  III. 

borrowing  the  wherewithal  to  pass  him  from  town  to 
town.  That  he  did  see  something  of  the  foreign  univer- 
sities is  evident  from  his  own  writings  ; there  are  touches 
of  description  here  and  there  which  he  could  not  well  have 
got  from  books.  With  this  degree,  and  with  such  book- 
learning and  such  knowledge  of  nature  and  human 
nature  as  he  had  chosen  or  managed  to  pick  up  during 
all  those  years,  he  was  now  called  upon  to  begin  life 
for  himself.  The  Irish  supplies  stopped  altogether. 
His  letters  were  left  unanswered.  And  so  Goldsmith 
somehow  or  other  got  back  to  London  (February  1,  1756), 
and  had  to  cast  about  for  some  way  of  earning  his 
daily  bread. 



Here  ensued  a very  dark  period  in  his  life.  He  was 
alone  in  London,  without  friends,  without  money,  with- 
out introductions  ; his  appearance  was  the  reverse  of  pre- 
possessing ; and,  even  despite  that  medical  degree  and 
his  acquaintance  with  the  learned  Albinus  and  the 
learned  Gaubius,  he  had  practically  nothing  of  any 
value  to  offer  for  sale  in  the  great  labour-market  of  the 
world.  How  he  managed  to  live  at  all  is  a mystery  : it 
is  certain  that  he  must  have  endured  a great  deal  of 
want ; and  one  may  well  sympathise  with  so  gentle  and 
sensitive  a creature  reduced  to  such  straits,  without  in- 
quiring too  curiously  into  the  causes  of  his  misfortunes. 
If,  on  the  one  hand,  we  cannot  accuse  society,  or 
Christianity,  or  the  English  government  of  injustice  and 
cruelty  because  Goldsmith  had  gambled  away  his  chances 
and  was  now  called  on  to  pay  the  penalty,  on  the  other 
hand,  we  had  better,  before  blaming  Goldsmith  himself, 
inquire  into  the  origin  of  those  defects  of  character  which 
produced  such  results.  As  this  would  involve  an  excur- 
sus into  the  controversy  between  Necessity  and  Free-wilL 
probably  most  people  would  rather  leave  it  alone.  It  may 




safely  be  said  in  any  case  that,  while  Goldsmith’s  faults 
and  follies,  of  which  he  himself  had  to  suffer  the  conse- 
quences, are  patent  enough,  his  character  on  the  whole 
was  distinctly  a lovable  one.  Goldsmith  was  his  own 
enemy,  and  everybody  else’s  friend  : that  is  not  a 
serious  indictment,  as  things  go.  He  was  quite  well 
aware  of  his  weaknesses ; and  he  was  also — it  may  be 
hinted — aware  of  the  good-nature  which  he  put  forward 
as  condonation.  If  some  foreigner  were  to  ask  how  it 
is  that  so  thoroughly  a commercial  people  as  the  English 
are  — strict  in  the  acknowledgment  and  payment  of  debt 
— should  have  always  betrayed  a sneaking  fondness  for 
the  character  of  the  good-humoured  scapegrace  whose 
hand  is  in  everybody’s  pocket,  and  who  throws  away  other 
people’s  money  with  the  most  charming  air  in  the  world, 
Goldsmith  might  be  pointed  to  as  one  of  many  literary 
teachers  whose  own  circumstances  were  not  likely  to 
make  them  severe  censors  of  the  Charles  Surfaces,  or 
lenient  judges  of  the  Joseph  Surfaces  of  the  world. 
Be  merry  while  you  may ; let  to-morrow  take  care 
of  itself ; share  your  last  guinea  with  any  one,  even 
if  the  poor  drones  of  society — the  butcher,  and  baker, 
and  milkman  with  his  score — have  to  suffer  ; do  any- 
thing you  like,  so  long  as  you  keep  the  heart  warm. 
All  this  is  a delightful  philosophy.  It  has  its  moments 
of  misery — its  periods  of  reaction — but  it  has  its 
moments  of  high  delight.  When  we  are  invited  to 
contemplate  the  “ evil  destinies  of  men  of  letters,” 
we  ought  to  be  shown  the  flood-tides  as  well  as  the 
ebb-tides.  The  tavern  gaiety ; the  brand  new  coat 
and  lace  and  sword  ; the  midnight  frolics,  with  jolly 
companions  every  one — these,  however  brief  and  inter- 




mittent,  should  not  be  wholly  left  out  of  the  picture. 
Of  course  it  is  very  dreadful  to  hear  of  poor  Boyse 
lying  in  bed  with  nothing  but  a blanket  over  him,  and 
with  his  arms  thrust  through  two  holes  in  the  blanket, 
so  that  he  could  write — perhaps  a continuation  of  his  poem 
on  the  Deity . But  then  we  should  be  shown  Boyse  when 
he  was  spending  the  money  collected  by  Dr.  Johnson 
to  get  the  poor  scribbler’s  clothes  out  of  pawn  ; and  we 
should  also  be  shown  him,  with  his  hands  through  the 
holes  in  the  blanket,  enjoying  the  mushrooms  and 
truffles  on  which,  as  a little  garniture  for  “ his  last  scrap 
of  beef,”  he  had  just  laid  out  his  last  half-guinea. 

There  were  but  few  truffles — probably  there  was  but 
little  beef — for  Goldsmith  during  this  sombre  period. 
“ His  threadbare  coat,  his  uncouth  figure,  and  Hibernian 
dialect  caused  him  to  meet  with  repeated  refusals.” 
But  at  length  he  got  some  employment  in  a chemist’s 
shop,  and  this  was  a start.  Then  he  tried  practising  in 
a small  way  on  his  own  account  in  Southwark.  Here  he 
made  the  acquaintance  of  a printer’s  workman ; and 
through  him  he  was  engaged  as  corrector  of  the  press  in 
the  establishment  of  Mr.  Samuel  Bichardson.  Being  so 
near  to  literature,  he  caught  the  infection  ; and  naturally 
began  with  a tragedy.  This  tragedy  was  shown  to  the 
author  of  Clarissa  Harlowe  ; but  it  only  went  the  way  of 
many  similar  first  inspiritings  of  the  Muse.  Then  Gold- 
smith drifted  to  Peckham,  where  we  find  him  (1757) 
installed  as  usher  at  Dr.  Milner’s  school.  Goldsmith 
as  usher  has  been  the  object  of  much  sympathy ; and 
he  would  certainly  deserve  it,  if  we  are  to  assume  that 
his  description  of  an  usher’s  position  in  the  Bee , and  in 
George  Primrose’s  advice  to  his  cousin,  was  a full  and 




accurate  description  of  his  life  at  Peckham.  “ Browbeat 
by  the  master,  hated  for  my  ugly  face  by  the  mistress, 
worried  by  the  boys  ” — if  that  was  his  life,  he  was  much 
to  be  pitied.  But  we  cannot  believe  it.  The  Milners 
were  exceedingly  kind  to  Goldsmith.  It  was  at  the 
intercession  of  young  Milner,  who  had  been  his  fellow- 
student  at  Edinburgh,  that  Goldsmith  got  the  situation, 
which  at  all  events  kept  him  out  of  the  reach  of  im- 
mediate want.  It  was  through  the  Milners  that  he 
was  introduced  to  Griffiths,  who  gave  him  a chance  of 
trying  a literary  career — as  a hack-writer  of  reviews  and 
so  forth.  When,  having  got  tired  of  that,  Goldsmith 
was  again  floating  vaguely  on  the  waves  of  chance, 
where  did  he  find  a harbour  but  in  that  very  school  at 
Peckham  % And  we  have  the  direct  testimony  of  the 
youngest  of  Dr.  Milner’s  daughters,  that  this  Irish 
usher  of  theirs  was  a remarkably  cheerful,  and  even 
facetious  person,  constantly  playing  tricks  and  practical 
jokes,  amusing  the  boys  by  telling  stories  and  by  per- 
formances on  the  flute,  living  a careless  life,  and 
always  in  advance  of  his  salary.  Any  beggars,  or  group 
of  children,  even  the  very  boys  who  played  back  practical 
jokes  on  him,  were  welcome  to  a share  of  what  small 
funds  he  had ; and  we  all  know  how  Mrs.  Milner  good- 
naturedly  said  one  day,  “You  had  better,  Mr.  Gold- 
smith, let  me  keep  your  money  for  you,  as  I do  for  some 
of  the  young  gentlemen  ; ” and  how  he  answered  with 
much  simplicity,  “ In  truth,  Madam,  there  is  equal 
need.”  With  Goldsmith’s  love  of  approbation  and 
extreme  sensitiveness  he  no  doubt  suffered  deeply  from 
many  slights,  now  as  at  other  times  ; but  what  we  know 
of  his  life  in  the  Peckham  school  does  not  incline  us  to 




believe  that  it  was  an  especially  miserable  period  of  his 
existence.  His  abundant  cheerfulness  does  not  seem  to 
have  at  any  time  deserted  him  ; and  what  with  tricks, 
and  jokes,  and  playing  of  the  flute,  the  dull  routine  of 
instructing  the  unruly  young  gentlemen  at  Dr.  Milner’s 
was  got  through  somehow. 

When  Goldsmith  left  the  Peckham  school  to  try 
hack- writing  in  Paternoster  Row,  he  was  going  further 
to  fare  worse.  Griffiths  the  bookseller,  when  he  met 
Goldsmith  at  Dr.  Milner’s  dinner-table  and  invited  him 
to  become  a reviewer,  was  doing  a service  to  the  English 
nation — for  it  was  in  this  period  of  machine-work  that 
Goldsmith  discovered  that  happy  faculty  of  literary  ex- 
pression that  led  to  the  composition  of  his  masterpieces— 
but  he  was  doing  little  immediate  service  to  Goldsmith. 

The  newly-captured  hack  was  boarded  and  lodged  at 
Griffiths’  house  in  Paternoster  Row  (1757);  he  was  to 
have  a small  salary  in  consideration  of  remorselessly 
constant  work  ; and — what  was  the  hardest  condition  of 
all — he  was  to  have  his  writings  revised  by  Mrs.  Griffiths. 
Mr.  Forster  justly  remarks  that  though  at  last  Goldsmith 
had  thus  become  a man-of -letters,  he  “ had  gratified  no 
passion  and  attained  no  object  of  ambition.”  He  had 
taken  to  literature,  as  so  many  others  have  done,  merely 
as  a last  resource.  And  if  it  is  true  that  literature  at 
first  treated  Goldsmith  harshly,  made  him  work  hard, 
and  gave  him  comparatively  little  for  wffiat  he  did,  at 
least  it  must  be  said  that  his  experience  was  not  a 
singular  one.  Mr.  Forster  says  that  literature  was  at 
that  time  in  a transition  state  : “ The  patron  was  gone, 
and  the  public  had  not  come.”  But  when  Goldsmith 
began  to  do  better  than  hack-work,  he  found  a public 




speedily  enough.  If,  as  Lord  Macaulay  computes,  Gold- 
smith received  in  the  last  seven  years  of  his  life  what 
was  equivalent  to  £5,600  of  our  money,  even  the  villain 
booksellers  cannot  be  accused  of  having  starved  him. 
At  the  outset  of  his  literary  career  he  received  no  large 
sums,  for  he  had  achieved  no  reputation ; but  he  got 
the  market  rate  for  his  work.  We  have  around  us  at  this 
moment  plenty  of  hacks  who  do  not  earn  much  more 
than  their  board  and  lodging  with  a small  salary. 

For  the  rest,  we  have  no  means  of  knowing  whether 
Goldsmith  got  through  his  work  with  ease  or  with  diffi- 
culty ; but  it  is  obvious,  looking  over  the  reviews  which 
he  is  believed  to  have  written  for  Griffiths’  magazine, 
that  he  readily  acquired  the  professional  critic’s  airs 
of  superiority,  along  with  a few  tricks  of  the  trade,  no 
doubt  taught  him  by  Griffiths.  Several  of  these  reviews, 
for  example,  are  merely  epitomes  of  the  contents  of  the 
books  reviewed,  with  some  vague  suggestion  that  the 
writer  might,  if  he  had  been  less  careful,  have  done 
worse,  and,  if  he  had  been  more  careful,  might  have 
done  better.  Who  does  not  remember  how  the  philo- 
sophic vagabond  was  taught  to  become  a cognoscento  ? 
“ The  whole  secret  consisted  in  a strict  adherence  to 
two  rules  : the  one  always  to  observe  that  the  picture 
might  have  been  better  if  the  painter  had  taken  more 
pains ; and  the  other  to  praise  the  works  of  Pietro 
Perugino.”  It  is  amusing  to  observe  the  different 
estimates  formed  of  the  function  of  criticism  by  Gold- 
smith the  critic,  and  by  Goldsmith  the  author.  Gold- 
smith, sitting  at  Griffiths’  desk,  naturally  magnifies  his 
office,  and  announces  his  opinion  that  “to  direct  our 
taste,  and  conduct  the  poet  up  to  perfection,  has  ever 




been  the  true  critic’s  province.”  But  Goldsmith  the 
author,  when  he  comes  to  inquire  into  the  existing  state 
of  Polite  Learning  in  Europe,  finds  in  criticism  not  a 
help  but  a danger.  It  is  “ the  natural  destroyer  of 
polite  learning.”  And  again,  in  the  Citizen  of  the  World , 
he  exclaims  against  the  pretensions  of  the  critic.  “ If 
any  choose  to  be  critics,  it  is  but  saying  they  are  critics ; 
and  from  that  time  forward  they  become  invested  with 
full  power  and  authority  over  every  caitiff  who  aims  at 
their  instruction  or  entertainment.” 

This  at  least  may  be  said,  that  in  these  early  essays 
contributed  to  the  Monthly  Review  there  is  much  more  of 
Goldsmith  the  critic  than  of  Goldsmith  the  author.  They 
are  somewhat  laboured  performances.  They  are  almost 
devoid  of  the  sly  and  delicate  humour  that  afterwards 
marked  Goldsmith’s  best  prose  work.  We  find  throughout 
his  trick  of  antithesis ; but  here  it  is  forced  and  formal, 
whereas  afterwards  he  lent  to  this  habit  of  writing 
the  subtle  surprise  of  epigram.  They  have  the  true 
manner  of  authority,  nevertheless.  He  says  of  Home’s 
Douglas — “ Those  parts  of  nature,  and  that  rural  sim- 
plicity with  which  the  author  was,  perhaps,  best  ac- 
quainted, are  not  unhappily  described ; and  hence  we 
are  led  to  conjecture,  that  a more  universal  knowledge 
of  nature  will  probably  increase  his  powers  of  de- 
scription.” If  the  author  had  written  otherwise,  he 
would  have  written  differently ; had  he  known  more,  he 
would  not  have  been  so  ignorant ; the  tragedy  is  a 
tragedy,  but  why  did  not  the  author  make  it  a comedy 
- — this  sort  of  criticism  has  been  heard  of  even  in  our 
own  day.  However,  Goldsmith  pounded  away  at  his 
newly-found  work,  under  the  eye  of  the  exacting  book- 




seller  and  his  learned  wife.  We  find  him  dealing  with 
Scandinavian  (here  called  Celtic)  mythology,  though  he 
does  not  adventure  on  much  comment  of  his  own  ; then 
he  engages  Smollett’s  History  of  England , but  mostly  in 
the  way  of  extract ; anon  we  find  him  reviewing  A Journal 
of  Eight  Bays'  Journey , by  Jonas  Han  way,  of  whom 
Johnson  said  that  he  made  some  reputation  by  travelling 
abroad,  and  lost  it  all  by  travelling  at  home.  Then  again 
we  find  him  writing  a disquisition  on  Some  Enquiries 
concerning  the  First  Inhabitants , Language , Religion , 
Learning , and  Letters  of  Europe , by  a Mr.  Wise,  who, 
along  with  his  critic,  appears  to  have  got  into  hopeless 
confusion  in  believing  Basque  and  Armorican  to  be  the 
remains  of  the  same  ancient  language.  The  last  phrase 
of  a note  appended  to  this  review  by  Goldsmith  probably 
indicates  his  own  humble  estimate  of  his  work  at  this 
time.  “ It  is  more  our  business, ” he  says,  “to  exhibit 
the  opinions  of  the  learned  than  to  controvert  them/ 1 
In  fact  he  was  employed  to  boil  down  books  for 
people  who  did  not  wish  to  spend  more  on  literature 
than  the  price  of  a magazine.  Though  he  was  new  to 
the  trade,  it  is  probable  he  did  it  as  well  as  any  other. 

At  the  end  of  five  months,  Goldsmith  and  Griffiths 
quarrelled  and  separated.  Griffiths  said  Goldsmith  was 
idle  ; Goldsmith  said  Griffiths  was  impertinent ; probably 
the  editorial  supervision  exercised  by  Mrs.  Griffiths  had 
something  to  do  with  the  dire  contention.  From  Pater- 
noster Row  Goldsmith  removed  to  a garret  in  Fleet 
Street ; had  his  letters  addressed  to  a coffee-house ; and 
apparently  supported  himself  by  further  hack-work,  his 
connection  with  Griffiths  not  being  quite  severed.  Then 
he  drifted  back  to  Peckham  again  ; and  was  once  more 



installed  as  usher,  Dr.  Milner  being  in  especial  want  of 
an  assistant  at  this  time.  Goldsmith’s  lingering  about 
the  gates  of  literature  had  not  inspired  him  with  any 
great  ambition  to  enter  the  enchanted  land.  But  at  the 
same  time  he  thought  he  saw  in  literature  a means  by 
which  a little  ready  money  might  be  made,  in  order  to 
help  him  on  to  something  more  definite  and  substantial  ; 
and  this  goal  was  now  put  before  him  by  Dr.  Milner,  in 
the  shape  of  a medical  appointment  on  the  Coromandel 
coast.  It  was  in  the  hope  of  obtaining  this  appointment, 
that  he  set  about  composing  that  Enquiry  into  the 
Present  State  of  Polite  Learning  in  Europe,  which  is  now 
interesting  to  us  as  the  first  of  his  more  ambitious  works. 
As  the  book  grew  under  his  hands,  he  began  to  cast 
about  for  subscribers  ; and  from  the  Fleet-Street  coffee- 
house— he  had  again  left  the  Peckham  school— he 
addressed  to  his  friends  and  relatives  a series  of  letters 
of  the  most  charming  humour,  which  might  have  drawn 
subscriptions  from  a millstone.  To  his  brother-in-law, 
Mr.  Hodson,  he  sent  a glowing  account  of  the  great 
fortune  in  store  for  him  on  the  Coromandel  coast.  “ The 
salary  is  but  trifling, ” he  writes,  “namely  £100  per 
annum,  but  the  other  advantages,  if  a person  be  prudent, 
are  considerable.  The  practice  of  the  place,  if  I am 
rightly  informed,  generally  amounts  to  not  less  than 
£1,000  per  annum,  for  which  the  appointed  physician 
has  an  exclusive  privilege.  This,  with  the  advantages 
resulting  from  trade,  and  the  high  interest  which  money 
bears,  viz.  £20  per  cent.,  are  the  inducements  which 
persuade  me  to  undergo  the  fatigues  of  sea,  the  dangers 
of  war,  and  the  still  greater  dangers  of  the  climate 
which  induce  me  to  leave  a place  where  I am  every  day 



[chap  iy. 

gaining  friends  and  esteem,  and  where  I might  enjoy  ail 
the  conveniences  of  life.” 

The  surprising  part  of  this  episode  in  Goldsmiths 
life  is  that  he  did  really  receive  the  appointment ; in 
fact  he  was  called  upon  to  pay  £10  for  the  appoint- 
ment-warrant. In  this  emergency  he  went  to  the 
proprietor  of  the  Critical  Review , the  rival  of  the 
Monthly , and  obtained  some  money  for  certain  anony- 
mous work  which  need  not  be  mentioned  in  detail 
here.  He  also  moved  into  another  garret,  this  time 
in  Green-Arbour  Court,  Fleet  Street,  in  a wilderness 
of  slums.  The  Coromandel  project,  however,  on  which 
so  many  hopes  had  been  built,  fell  through.  No  ex- 
planation of  the  collapse  could  be  got  from  either  Gold- 
smith  himself,  or  from  Dr.  Milner.  Mr.  Forster  suggests 
that  Goldsmith’s  inability  to  raise  money  for  his  outfit 
may  have  been  made  the  excuse  for  transferring  the 
appointment  to  another ; and  that  is  probable  enough  ; 
but  it  is  also  probable  that  the  need  for  such  an  excuse 
was  based  on  the  discovery  that  Goldsmith  was  not 
properly  qualified  for  the  post.  And  this  seems  the  more 
likely,  that  Goldsmith  immediately  afterwards  resolved 
to  challenge  examination  at  Surgeons’  Hall.  He  under- 
took to  write  four  articles  for  the  Monthly  Review; 
Griffiths  became  surety  to  a tailor  for  a fine  suit  of 
clothes  ; and  thus  equipped,  Goldsmith  presented  him- 
self at  Surgeons’  Hall.  He  only  wanted  to  be  passed  as 
hospital  mate  ; but  even  that  modest  ambition  was  un- 
fulfilled. He  was  found  not  qualified  ; and  returned, 
with  his  fine  clothes,  to  his  Fleet-Street  den.  He  was 
now  thirty  years  of  age  (1758) ; and  had  found  no  definite 
occupation  in  the  world. 



During  the  period  that  now  ensued,  and  amid  much 
quarrelling  with  Griffiths  and  hack-writing  for  the 
Critical  Review , Goldsmith  managed  to  get  his  En- 
quiry into  the  Present  State  of  Polite  Learning  in 
Europe  completed  ; and  it  is  from  the  publication  of 
that  work,  on  the  2nd  of  April,  1759,  that  we  may  date 
the  beginning  of  Goldsmith’s  career  as  an  author.  The 
book  was  published  anonymously;  but  Goldsmith  was 
not  at  all  anxious  to  disclaim  the  parentage  of  his  first- 
born ; and  in  Grub  Street  and  its  environs,  at  least,  the 
authorship  of  the  book  was  no  secret.  Moreover  there 
was  that  in  it  which  was  likely  to  provoke  the  literary 
tribe  to  plenty  of  fierce  talking.  The  Enquiry  is  neither 
more  nor  less  than  an  endeavour  to  prove  that  criticism 
has  in  all  ages  been  the  deadly  enemy  of  art  and  litera- 
ture ; coupled  with  an  appeal  to  authors  to  draw  their 
inspiration  from  nature  rather  than  from  books,  and 
varied  here  and  there  by  a gentle  sigh  over  the  loss  of 
that  patronage,  in  the  sunshine  of  which  men  of  genius 
were  wont  to  bask.  Goldsmith,  not  having  been  an 
author  himself,  could  not  have  suffered  much  at  the 





hands  of  the  critics  ; so  that  it  is  not  to  be  supposed  that 
personal  feeling  dictated  this  fierce  onslaught  on  the 
whole  tribe  of  critics,  compilers,  and  commentators. 
They  are  represented  to  us  as  rank  weeds,  growing  up 
to  choke  all  manifestations  of  true  art.  “ Ancient 
learning,’ ’ we  are  told  at  the  outset,  “ may  be  dis- 
tinguished into  three  periods  : its  commencement,  or 
the  age  of  poets;  its  maturity,  or  the  age  of  philo- 
sophers ; and  its  decline,  or  the  age  of  critics.”  Then 
our  guide  carries  us  into  the  dark  ages ; and,  with 
lantern  in  hand,  shows  us  the  creatures  swarming 
there  in  the  sluggish  pools — “ commentators,  compilers, 
polemic  divines,  and  intricate  metaphysicians.”  We 
come  to  Italy  : look  at  the  affectations  with  which  the 
Virtuosi  and  Filosofi  have  enchained  the  free  spirit  of 
poetry.  “ Poetry  is  no  longer  among  them  an  imitation 
of  what  we  see,  but  of  what  a visionary  might  wish. 
The  zephyr  breathes  the  most  exquisite  perfume  ; the 
trees  wear  eternal  verdure ; fawns,  and  dryads,  and 
hamadryads,  stand  ready  to  fan  the  sultry  shepherdess, 
who  has  forgot,  indeed,  the  prettiness  with  which 
Guarini’s  shepherdesses  have  been  reproached,  bat  is 
so  simple  and  innocent  as  often  to  have  no  meaning. 
Happy  country,  where  the  pastoral  age  begins  to  re- 
vive ! — where  the  wits  even  of  Pome  are  united  into  a 
rural  group  of  nymphs  and  swains,  under  the  appellation 
of  modern  Arcadians  ! — where  in  the  midst  of  porticoes, 
processions,  and  cavalcades,  abbes  turned  shepherds 
and  shepherdesses  without  sheep  indulge  their  innocent 
divertimenti  ! ” 

In  Germany  the  ponderous  volumes  of  the  commen- 
tators next  come  in  for  animadversion  ; and  here  we 


find  an  epigram,  the  quaint  simplicity  of  which  is 
peculiarly  characteristic  of  Goldsmith.  “ Were  angels 
to  write  books,’’  he  remarks,  “ they  never  would  write 
folios.”  But  Germany  gets  credit  for  the  money  spent 
by  her  potentates  on  learned  institutions ; and  it  is 
perhaps  England  that  is  delicately  hinted  at  in  these 
words : “ Had  the  fourth  part  of  the  immense  sum 
above-mentioned  been  given  in  proper  rewards  to 
genius,  in  some  neighbouring  countries,  it  would  have 
rendered  the  name  of  the  donor  immortal,  and  added 
to  the  real  interests  of  society.”  Indeed,  when  we 
come  to  England,  we  find  that  men  of  letters  are  in 
a bad  way,  owing  to  the  prevalence  of  critics,  the 
tyranny  of  booksellers,  and  the  absence  of  patrons. 
“ The  author,  when  unpatronized  by  the  great,  has 
naturally  recourse  to  the  bookseller.  There  cannot 
perhaps  be  imagined  a combination  more  prejudicial 
to  taste  than  this.  It  is  the  interest  of  the  one  to 
allow  as  little  for  writing,  and  of  the  other  to  write 
as  much  as  possible.  Accordingly,  tedious  compilations 
and  periodical  magazines  are  the  result  of  their  joint 
endeavours.  In  these  circumstances  the  author  bids 
adieu  to  fame,  writes  for  bread,  and  for  that  only. 
Imagination  is  seldom  called  in.  He  sits  down  to 
address  the  venal  muse  with  the  most  phlegmatic 
apathy ; and,  as  we  are  told  of  the  Russian,  courts 
his  mistress  by  falling  asleep  in  her  lap.  His  repu- 
tation never  spreads  in  a wider  circle  than  that  of  the 
trade,  who  generally  value  him,  not  for  the  fineness 
of  his  compositions,  but  the  quantity  he  works  off  in 
a given  time. 

“ A long  habit  of  writing  for  bread  thus  turns  the 

d 2 




ambition  of  every  author  at  last  into  avarice.  He  finds 
that  he  has  written  many  years,  that  the  public  are 
scarcely  acquainted  even  with  his  name  ; he  despairs  of 
applause,  and  turns  to  profit,  which  invites  him.  He 
finds  that  money  procures  all  those  advantages,  that 
respect,  and  that  ease  which  he  vainly  expected  from 
fame.  Thus  the  man  who,  under  the  protection  of  the 
great,  might  have  done  honour  to  humanity,  when  only 
patronized  by  the  bookseller,  becomes  a thing  little 
superior  to  the  fellow  who  works  at  the  press.” 

Nor  was  he  afraid  to  attack  the  critics  of  his  own 
day,  though  he  knew  that  the  two  Reviews  for  which  he 
had  recently  been  writing  would  have  something  to  say 
about  his  own  Enquiry . This  is  how  he  disposes  of 
the  Critical  and  the  Monthly  : “ We  have  two  literary 
Reviews  in  London,  with  critical  newspapers  and  maga- 
zines without  number.  The  compilers  of  these  resemble 
the  commoners  of  Rome ; they  are  all  for  levelling 
property,  not  by  increasing  their  own,  but  by  diminish- 
ing that  of  others.  The  man  who  has  any  good- 
nature in  his  disposition  must,  however,  be  somewhat 
displeased  to  see  distinguished  reputations  often  the 
sport  of  ignorance, — to  see,  by  one  false  pleasantry, 
the  future  peace  of  a worthy  man’s  life  disturbed,  and 
this  only  because  he  has  unsuccessfully  attempted  to 
instruct  or  amuse  us.  Though  ill-nature  is  far  from 
being  wit,  yet  it  is  generally  laughed  at  as  such.  The 
critic  enjoys  the  triumph,  and  ascribes  to  his  parts  what 
is  only  due  to  his  effrontery.  I fire  with  indignation, 
when  I see  persons  wholly  destitute  of  education  and 
genius  indent  to  the  press,  and  thus  turn  book-makers, 
adding  to  the  sin  of  criticism  the  sin  of  ignorance  also ; 


whose  trade  is  a bad  one,  and  who  are  bad  workmen  in 
the  trade.”  Indeed  there  was  a good  deal  of  random 
hitting  in  the  Enquiry , which  was  sure  to  provoke 
resentment.  Why,  for  example,  should  he  have  gone 
out  of  his  way  to  insult  the  highly  respectable  class 
of  people  who  excel  in  mathematical  studies  'l  “ This 
seems  a science,”  he  observes,  “to  which  the  meanest 
intellects  are  equal.  I forget  who  it  is  that  says  4 All 
men  might  understand  mathematics  if  they  would.’  ” 
There  was  also  in  the  first  edition  of  the  Enquiry  a. 
somewhat  ungenerous  attack  on  stage-managers,  actor*,, 
actresses,  and  theatrical  things  in  general ; but  this  was 
afterwards  wisely  excised.  It  is  not  to  be  wondered 
at  that,  on  the  whole,  the  Enquiry  should  have  been 
severely  handled  in  certain  quarters.  Smollett,  who 
reviewed  it  in  the  Critical  Review , appears  to  have  kept 
his  temper  pretty  well  for  a Scotchman ; but  Kenrick, 
a hack  employed  by  Griffiths  to  maltreat  the  book  in 
the  Monthly  Review , flourished  his  bludgeon  in  a brave 
manner.  The  coarse  personalities  and  malevolent  in- 
sinuations of  this  bully  no  doubt  hurt  Goldsmith 
considerably;  but,  as  we  look  at  them  now,  they 
are  only  remarkable  for  their  dulness.  If  Griffiths 
had  had  another  Goldsmith  to  reply  to  Goldsmith, 
the  retort  would  have  been  better  worth  reading  : one 
can  imagine  the  playful  sarcasm,  that  would  have  been 
dealt  out  to  this  new  writer,  who,  in  the  very  act  of 
protesting  against  criticism,  proclaimed  himself  a critic. 
But  Goldsmiths  are  not  always  to  be  had  when 
wanted ; while  Kenricks  can  be  bought  at  any  moment 
for  a guinea  or  two  a head. 

Goldsmith  had  not  chosen  literature  as  the  occupation 




of  his  life ; he  had  only  fallen  back  on  it,  when  other 
projects  failed.  But  it  is  quite  possible  that  now,  as 
he  began  to  take  up  some  slight  position  as  an  author, 
the  old  ambition  of  distinguishing  himself — which  had 
flickered  before  his  imagination  from  time  to  time— 
began  to  enter  into  his  calculations  along  with  the  more 
pressing  business  of  earning  a livelihood.  And  he  was 
soon  to  have  an  opportunity  of  appealing  to  a wider 
public  than  could  have  been  expected  for  that  erudite 
treatise  on  the  arts  of  Europe.  Mr.  Wilkie,  a book- 
seller in  St.  Paul’s  Churchyard,  proposed  to  start  a 
weekly  magazine,  price  threepence,  to  contain  essays, 
short  stories,  letters  on  the  topics  of  the  day,  and  so 
forth,  more  or  less  after  the  manner  of  the  Spectator . 
He  asked  Goldsmith  to  become  sole  contributor.  Here, 
indeed,  was  a very  good  opening ; for,  although  there 
were  many  magazines  in  the  field,  the  public  had  just 
then  a fancy  for  literature  in  small  doses ; while  Gold- 
smith, in  entering  into  the  competition,  would  not  be 
hampered  by  the  dulness  of  collaborateurs.  He  closed 
with  Wilkie’s  offer ; and  on  the  6th  of  October,  1759, 
appeared  the  first  number  of  the  Bee. 

For  us  now  there  is  a curious  autobiographical  interest 
in  the  opening  sentences  of  the  first  number ; but  surely 
even  the  public  of  the  day  must  have  imagined  that  the 
new  writer  who  was  now  addressing  them,  was  not  to  be 
confounded  with  the  common  herd  of  magazine-hacks. 
What  could  be  more  delightful  than  this  odd  mixture  of 
modesty,  humour,  and  an  anxious  desire  to  please? — 
5 ‘ There  is  not,  perhaps,  a more  whimsically  dismal  figure 
in  nature  than  a man  of  real  modesty,  who  assumes 
cn  air  of  impudence — who,  while  his  heart  beats  with 


anxiety,  studies  ease  and  affects  good-humour.  Tn  this 
situation,  however,  a periodical  writer  often  finds  himself 
upon  his  first  attempt  to  address  the  public  in  form. 
All  his  power  of  pleasing  is  damped  by  solicitude,  and 
his  cheerfulness  dashed  with  apprehension.  Impressed 
with  the  terrors  of  the  tribunal  before  which  he  is  going 
to  appear,  his  natural  humour  turns  to  pertness,  and  for 
real  wit  he  is  obliged  to  substitute  vivacity.  His  first 
publication  draws  a crowd  ; they  part  dissatisfied ; and 
the  author,  never  more  to  be  indulged  with  a favourable 
hearing,  is  left  to  condemn  the  indelicacy  of  his  own 
address  or  their  want  of  discernment.  For  my  part,  as  I 
was  never  distinguished  for  address,  and  have  often  even 
blundered  in  making  my  bow,  such  bodings  as  these  had 
like  to  have  totally  repressed  my  ambition.  I was  at  a 
loss  whether  to  give  the  public  specious  promises,  or  give 
none  ; whether  to  be  merry  or  sad  on  this  solemn  occa- 
sion. If  I should  decline  all  merit,  it  was  too  probabje 
the  hasty  reader  might  have  taken  me  at  my  word.  If, 
on  the  other  hand,  like  labourers  in  the  magazine  trade, 
I had,  with  modest  impudence,  humbly  presumed  to 
promise  an  epitome  of  all  the  good  things  that  ever  were 
said  or  written,  this  might  have  disgusted  those  readers 
I most  desire  to  please.  Had  I been  merry,  I might 
have  been  censured  as  vastly  low ; and  had  I been 
sorrowful,  I might  have  been  left  to  mourn  in  solitude 
and  silence  ; in  short,  whichever  way  I turned,  nothing 
presented  but  prospects  of  terror,  despair,  chandlers’ 
shops,  and  waste  paper.” 

And  it  is  just  possible  that  if  Goldsmith  had  kept  to 
this  vein  of  familiar  causerie , the  public  might  in  time 
have  been  attracted  by  its  quaintness.  But  no  doubt 




Mr.  Wilkie  would  have  stared  aghast ; and  so  we  find 
Goldsmith,  as  soon  as  his  introductory  bow  is  made, 
setting  seriously  about  the  business  of  magazine-making. 
Very  soon,  however,  both  Mr.  Wilkie  and  his  editor 
perceived  that  the  public  had  not  been  taken  by  their 
venture.  The  chief  cause  of  the  failure,  as  it  appears 
to  any  one  who  looks  over  the  magazine  now,  would 
seem  to  be  the  lack  of  any  definite  purpose.  There  was 
no  marked  feature  to  arrest  public  attention,  while 
many  things  were  discarded  on  which  the  popularity 
of  other  periodicals  had  been  based.  There  was  no 
scandal  to  appeal  to  the  key-hole  and  back  door 
element  in  human  nature ; there  were  no  libels  and 
gross  personalities  to  delight  the  mean  and  envious ; 
there  were  no  fine  airs  of  fashion  to  charm  milliners 
anxious  to  know  how  the  great  talked,  and  posed,  and 
dressed ; and  there  was  no  solemn  and  pompous  erudi- 
tion to  impress  the  minds  of  those  serious  and  sensible 
people  who  buy  literature  as  they  buy  butter,  by  its 
weight.  At  the  beginning  of  No.  IY.  he  admits  that 
the  new  magazine  has  not  been  a success ; and,  in  doing 
so,  returns  to  that  vein  of  whimsical,  personal  humour 
with  which  he  had  started  : “ Were  I to  measure  the 
merit  of  my  present  undertaking  by  its  success  or  the 
rapidity  of  its  sale,  I might  be  led  to  form  conclusions 
by  no  means  favourable  to  the  pride  of  an  author. 
Should  I estimate  my  fame  by  its  extent,  every  news- 
paper and  magazine  would  leave  me  far  behind.  Their 
fame  is  diffused  in  a very  wide  circle — that  of  some  as 
far  as  Islington,  and  some  yet  farther  still ; while  mine, 
I sincerely  believe,  has  hardly  travelled  beyond  the 
sound  of  Bow  Bell ; and,  while  the  works  of  others  fly 


like  unpinioned  swans,  I find  my  own  move  as  heavily 
as  a new-plucked  goose.  Still,  however,  I have  as  much 
pride  as  they  who  have  ten  times  as  many  readers.  It 
is  impossible  to  repeat  all  the  agreeable  delusions  in 
which  a disappointed  author  is  apt  to  find  comfort.  I 
conclude,  that  what  my  reputation  wants  in  extent  is 
made  up  by  its  solidity.  Minus  juvat  gloria  lata  quam 
magna . I have  great  satisfaction  in  considering  the 
delicacy  and  discernment  of  those  readers  I have,  and  in 
ascribing  my  want  of  popularity  to  the  ignorance  or 
inattention  of  those  1 have  not.  All  the  world  may 
forsake  an  author,  but  vanity  will  never  forsake  him. 
Yet,  notwithstanding  so  sincere  a confession,  I was  once 
induced  to  show  my  indignation  against  the  public,  by 
discontinuing  my  endeavours  to  please  ; and  was  bravely 
resolved,  like  Haleigh,  to  vex  them  by  burning  my  manu- 
script in  a passion.  Upon  recollection,  however,  I con- 
sidered what  set  or  body  of  people  would  be  displeased 
at  my  rashness.  The  sun,  after  so  sad  an  accident, 
might  shine  next  morning  as  bright  as  usual ; men 
might  laugh  and  sing  the  next  day,  and  transact  busi- 
ness as  before,  and  not  a single  creature  feel  any  regret 
but  myself.” 

Goldsmith  was  certainly  more  at  home  in  this  sort  of 
writing,  than  in  gravely  lecturing  people  against  the 
vice  of  gambling;  in  warning  tradesmen  how  ill  it 
became  them  to  be  seen  at  races ; in  demonstrating 
that  justice  is  a higher  virtue  than  generosity;  and 
in  proving  that  the  avaricious  are  the  true  bene- 
factors of  society.  But  even  as  he  confesses  the  failure 
of  his  new  magazine,  he  seems  determined  to  show  the 
public  what  sort  of  writer  this  is,  whom  as  yet  they  have 




not  regarded  too  favourably.  It  is  in  No.  IV.  of  the  Bee 
that  the  famous  City  Night  Piece  occurs.  No  doubt 
that  strange  little  fragment  of  description  was  the 
result  of  some  sudden  and  aimless  fancy,  striking  the 
occupant  of  the  lonely  garret  in  the  middle  of  the 
night.  The  present  tense,  which  he  seldom  used — and 
the  abuse  of  which  is  one  of  the  detestable  vices  of 
modern  literature — adds  to  the  mysterious  solemnity  of 
the  recital : — 

“ The  clock  has  just  struck  two,  the  expiring  taper 
rises  and  sinks  in  the  socket,  the  watchman  forgets  the 
hour  in  slumber,  the  laborious  and  the  happy  are  at  rest, 
and  nothing  wakes  but  meditation,  guilt,  revelry,  and 
despair.  The  drunkard  once  more  fills  the  destroying 
bowl,  the  robber  walks  his  midnight  round,  and  the 
suicide  lifts  his  guilty  arm  against  his  own  sacred 

“ Let  me  no  longer  waste  the  night  over  the  page  of 
antiquity  or  the  sallies  of  contemporary  genius,  but 
pursue  the  solitary  walk,  where  Vanity,  ever  changing, 
but  a few  hours  past  walked  before  me — where  she  kept 
up  the  pageant,  and  now,  like  a froward  child,  seems 
hushed  with  her  own  importunities. 

“ What  a gloom  hangs  all  around  ! The  dying  lamp 
feebly  emits  a yellow  gleam  ; no  sound  is  heard  but  of 
the  chiming  clock,  or  the  distant  watch-dog.  All  the 
bustle  of  human  pride  is  forgotten  ; an  hour  like  this 
may  well  display  the  emptiness  of  human  vanity. 

“ There  will  come  a time,  when  this  temporary  solitude 
may  be  made  continual,  and  the  city  itself,  like  its  in- 
habitants, fade  away,  and  leave  a desert  in  its  room. 

“ What  cities,  as  great  as  this,  have  once  triumphed  in 




existence,  had  their  victories  as  great,  joy  as  just  and  as 
unbounded  ; and,  with  short  sighted  presumption,  pro- 
mised themselves  immortality  ! Posterity  can  hardly 
trace  the  situation  of  some ; the  sorrowful  traveller 
wanders  over  the  awful  ruins  of  others ; and,  as  he 
beholds,  he  learns  wisdom,  and  feels  the  transience  of 
every  sublunary  possession. 

“ ‘ Here,’  he  cries,  ‘ stood  their  citadel,  now  grown 
over  with  weeds ; there  their  senate-house,  but  now  the 
haunt  of  every  noxious  reptile  ; temples  and  theatres 
stood  here,  now  only  an  undistinguished  heap  of  ruin. 
They  are  fallen,  for  luxury  and  avarice  first  made  them 
feeble.  The  rewards  of  the  state  were  conferred  on 
amusing,  and  not  on  useful,  members  of  society.  Their 
riches  and  opulence  invited  the  invaders,  who,  though  at 
first  repulsed,  returned  again,  conquered  by  perseverance, 
and  at  last  swept  the  defendants  into  undistinguished 
destruction/  ” 



The  foregoing  extracts  will  sufficiently  show  what 
were  the  chief  characteristics  of  Goldsmith’s  writing 
at  this  time — the  grace  and  ease  of  style,  a gentle 
and  sometimes  pathetic  thoughtfulness,  and,  above  all, 
when  he  speaks  in  the  first  person,  a delightful  vein 
of  humorous  self- disclosure.  Moreover,  these  quali- 
ties, if  they  were  not  immediately  profitable  to  the 
booksellers,  were  beginning  to  gain  for  him  the  recog- 
nition of  some  of  the  well-known  men  of  the  day. 
Percy,  afterwards  Bishop  of  Dromore,  had  made  his  way 
to  the  miserable  garret  of  the  poor  author.  Smollett, 
whose  novels  Goldsmith  preferred  to  his  History,  was 
anxious  to  secure  his  services  as  a contributor  to  the 
forthcoming  British  Magazine . Burke  had  spoken  of 
the  pleasure  given  him  by  Goldsmith’s  review  of  the 
Enquiry  into  the  Origin  of  our  Ideas  of  the  Sublime  and 
Beautiful . But,  to  crown  all,  the  great  Cham  himself 
sought  out  this  obscure  author,  who  had  on  several 
occasions  spoken  with  reverence  and  admiration  of  his 
works ; and  so  began  what  is  perhaps  the  most  inter- 
esting literary  friendship  on  record.  At  what  precise 
date  Johnson  first  made  Goldsmith’s  acquaintance,  is  not 

CH.  VI.] 



known  ; Mr.  Forster  is  right  in  assuming  that  they 
had  met  before  the  supper  in  Wine-Office  Court,  at 
which  Mr.  Percy  was  present.  It  is  a thousand  pities 
that  Boswell  had  not  by  this  time  made  his  appearance 
in  London.  Johnson,  Goldsmith,  and  all  the  rest  of 
them  are  only  ghosts  until  the  pertinacious  young  laird 
of  Auchinleck  comes  on  the  scene  to  give  them  colour, 
and  life,  and  form.  It  is  odd  enough  that  the  very  first 
remarks  of  Goldsmith’s  which  Boswell  jotted  down  in 
his  notebook,  should  refer  to  Johnson’s  systematic 
kindness  towards  the  poor  and  wretched.  “ He  had 
increased  my  admiration  of  the  goodness  of  Johnson’s 
heart  by  incidental  remarks  in  the  course  of  con- 
versation, such  as,  when  I mentioned  Mr.  Levett,  whom 
he  entertained  under  his  roof,  ‘ He  is  poor  and  honest, 
which  is  recommendation  enough  to  J ohnson  ’ ; and 
when  I wondered  that  he  was  very  kind  to  a man  of 
whom  I had  heard  a very  bad  character,  ‘ He  is  now 
become  miserable,  and  that  ensures  the  protection  of 
Johnson.’  ” 

d or  the  rest,  Boswell  was  not  well-disposed  towards 
Goldsmith,  whom  he  regarded  with  a jealousy  equal  to 
his  admiration  of  Johnson ; but  it  is  probable  that  his 
description  of  the  personal  appearance  of  the  awkward 
and  ungainly  Irishman  is  in  the  main  correct.  And 
here  also  it  may  be  said  that  Boswell’s  love  of  truth 
and  accuracy  compelled  him  to  make  this  admission  : 
“ It  has  been  generally  circulated  and  believed  that  he 
(Goldsmith)  was  a mere  fool  in  conversation  ; but,  in 
truth,  this  has  been  greatly  exaggerated.”  On  this  ex- 
aggeration— seeing  that  the  contributor  to  the  British 
Magazine  and  the  Public  Ledger  was  now  becoming  better 




known  among  his  fellow  authors — a word  or  two  may 
fitly  be  said  here.  It  pleased  Goldsmith’s  contempo- 
raries, who  were  not  all  of  them  celebrated  for  their 
re  idy  wit,  to  regard  him  as  a hopeless  and  incurable 
fool,  who  by  some  strange  chance  could  produce  liter- 
ature, the  merits  of  which  he  could  not  himself  under- 
stand. To  Horace  Walpole  we  owe  the  phrase  which 
describes  Goldsmith  as  an  “inspired  idiot.”  Innumer- 
able stories  are  told  of  Goldsmith’s  blunders  ; of  his 
forced  attempts  to  shine  in  conversation ; of  poor  Poll 
talking  nonsense,  when  all  the  world  was  wondering 
at  the  beauty  of  his  writing.  In  one  case  we  are  told  he 
was  content  to  admit,  when  dictated  to,  that  this,  and 
not  that,  was  what  he  really  had  meant  in  a particular 
phrase.  Now  there  can  be  no  question  that  Gold- 
smith, conscious  of  his  pitted  face,  his  brogue,  and  his 
ungainly  figure,  was  exceedingly  nervous  and  sensitive 
in  society,  and  was  anxious,  as  such  people  mostly  are, 
to  cover  his  shyness  by  an  appearance  of  ease,  if 
not  even  of  swagger ; and  there  can  be  as  little  question 
that  he  occasionally  did  and  said  very  awkward  and 
blundering  things.  But  our  Japanese  friend,  whom  we 
mentioned  in  our  opening  pages,  looking  through  the 
record  that  is  preserved  to  us  of  those  blunders 
which  are  supposed  to  be  most  conclusive  as  to 
this  aspect  of  Goldsmith’s  character,  would  certainly 
stare.  “ Good  heavens,”  he  would  cry,  “ did  men  ever 
live  who  were  so  thick  headed  as  not  to  see  the  humour 
of  this  or  that  ‘ blunder  ’ ; or  were  they  so  beset  with 
the  notion  that  Goldsmith  was  only  a fool,  that  they 
must  needs  be  blind  ] ” Take  one  well-known  instance. 
He  goes  to  France  with  Mrs.  Horneck  and  her  two 




daughters,  the  latter  very  handsome  young  ladies.  At 
Lille  the  two  girls  and  Goldsmith  are  standing  at 
the  window  of  the  hotel,  overlooking  the  square  in 
which  are  some  soldiers ; and  naturally  the  beautiful 
young  Englishwomen  attract  some  attention.  There- 
upon Goldsmith  turns  indignantly  away,  remarking  that 
elsewhere  he  also  has  his  admirers.  Now  what  surgical 
instrument  was  needed  to  get  this  harmless  little  joke 
into  any  sane  person’s  head  % Boswell  may  perhaps  be 
pardoned  for  pretending  to  take  the  incident  an  serieux  ; 
for  as  has  just  been  said,  in  his  profound  adoration  of 
J ohnson,  he  was  devoured  by  jealousy  of  Goldsmith ; 
but  that  any  other  mortal  should  have  failed  to  see 
what  was  meant  by  this  little  bit  of  humorous  flattery 
is  almost  incredible.  No  wonder  that  one  of  the  sisters 
afterwards  referring  to  this  “ playful  jest,”  should  have 
expressed  her  astonishment  at  finding  it  put  down  as  a 
proof  of  Goldsmith’s  envious  disposition.  But  even  after 
that  disclaimer,  we  find  Mr.  Croker,  as  quoted  by  Mr. 
Forster,  solemnly  doubting  “ whether  the  vexation  so 
seriously  exhibited  by  Goldsmith  was  real  or  assumed”  ! 

Of  course  this  is  an  extreme  case ; but  there  are  others 
very  similar.  “ He  affected,”  says  Hawkins,  “ Johnson’s 
style  and  manner  of  conversation,  and,  when  he  had 
uttered,  as  he  often  would,  a laboured  sentence,  so 
tumid  as  to  be  scarce  intelligible,  would  ask  if  that  was 
not  truly  Johnsonian  % ” Is  it  not  truly  dismal  to  find 
such  an  utterance  coming  from  a presumably  reasonable 
human  being  % It  is  not  to  be  wondered  at  that  Gold- 
smith grew  shy — and  in  some  cases  had  to  ward  off  the 
acquaintance  of  certain  of  his  neighbours  as  being  too 
intrusive — if  he  ran  the  risk  of  having  his  odd  and  grave 




humours  so  densely  mistranslated.  The  fact  is  this, 
that  Goldsmith  was  possessed  of  a very  subtle  quality 
of  humour,  which  is  at  all  times  rare,  but  which  is 
perhaps  more  frequently  to  be  found  in  Irishmen 
than  among  other  folks.  It  consists  in  the  satire  of  the 
pretence  and  pomposities  of  others  by  means  of  a sort 
of  exaggerated  and  playful  self-depreciation.  It  is  a 
most  delicate  and  most  delightful  form  of  humour ; but 
it  is  very  apt  to  be  misconstrued  by  the  dull.  Who 
can  doubt  that  Goldsmith  was  good-naturedly  laugh- 
ing at  himself,  his  own  plain  face,  his  vanity,  and 
his  blunders,  when  he  professed  to  be  jealous  of  the 
admiration  excited  by  the  Miss  Hornecks ; when  he 
gravely  drew  attention  to  the  splendid  colours  of  his 
coat ; or  when  he  no  less  gravely  informed  a company  of 
his  friends  that  he  had  heard  a very  good  story,  but 
would  not  repeat  it,  because  they  would  be  sure  to  miss 
the  point  of  it  % 

This  vein  of  playful  and  sarcastic  self-depreciation  is 
continually  cropping  up  in  his  essay  writing,  as,  for 
example,  in  the  passage  already  quoted  from  No.  IV. 
of  the  Bee : “I  conclude,  that  what  my  reputation 
wants  in  extent,  is  made  up  by  its  solidity.  Minus 
jurat  gloria  lata  quam  magna . I have  great  satis- 
faction in  considering  the  delicacy  and  discernment 
of  those  readers  I have,  and  in  ascribing  my  want  of 
popularity  to  the  ignorance  or  inattention  of  those  I 
have  not.”  But  here,  no  doubt,  he  remembers  that  he 
is  addressing  tbe  world  at  large,  which  contains  many 
foolish  persons ; and  so,  that  the  delicate  raillery  may 
not  be  mistaken,  he  immediately  adds,  “ All  the  world 
may  forsake  an  author,  but  vanity  will  never  forsake 




him.”  That  ho  expected  a quicker  apprehension  on  the 
part  of  his  intimates  and  acquaintances,  and  that  he 
was  frequently  disappointed,  seems  pretty  clear  from 
those  very  stories  of  his  “ blunders.”  We  may  reason- 
ably suspect,  at  all  events,  that  Goldsmith  was  not  quite  so 
much  of  a fool  as  he  looked  ; and  it  is  far  from  improbable 
that  when  the  ungainly  Irishman  was  called  in  to  make 
sport  for  the  Philistines — and  there  were  a good  many 
Philistines  in  those  days,  if  all  stories  be  true — 
and  when  they  imagined  they  had  put  him  out  of 
countenance,  he  was  really  standing  aghast,  and 
wondering  how  it  could  have  pleased  Providence  to 
create  such  helpless  stupidity. 



Meanwhile,  to  return  to  his  literary  work,  the  Citizen 
of  the  World  had  grown  out  of  his  contributions  to  the 
Public  Ledger , a daily  newspaper  started  by  Mr.  New- 
bery,  another  bookseller  in  St.  Paul’s  Churchyard. 
Goldsmith  was  engaged  to  write  for  this  paper  two 
letters  a week  at  a guinea  a-piece  ; and  these  letters 
were,  after  a short  time  (1760),  written  in  the  character  of 
a Chinese  who  had  come  to  study  European  civilisation. 
It  may  be  noted  that  Goldsmith  had  in  the  Monthly 
Review , in  mentioning  Voltaire’s  memoirs  of  French 
writers,  quoted  a passage  about  Montesquieu’s  Lettres 
Persanes  as  follows : “ It  is  written  in  imitation  of 
the  Siamese  Letters  of  Du  Freny  and  of  the  Turkish 
Spy;  but  it  is  an  imitation  wThich  shows  what  the 
originals  should  have  been.  The  success  their  works 
met  with  was,  for  the  most  part,  owing  to  the  foreign 
air  of  their  performances ; the  success  of  the  Persian 
Letters  arose  from  the  delicacy  of  their  satire.  That 
satire  which  in  the  mouth  of  an  Asiatic  is  poignant, 
would  lose  all  its  force  when  coming  from  an  European.” 
And  it  must  certainly  be  said  that  the  charm  of  the 

CH.  vii.]  THE  CITIZEN  OF  THE  'WORLD.  — BEAU  NASH.  51 

strictures  of  the  Citizen  of  the  World  lies  wholly  in  their 
delicate  satire,  and  not  at  all  in  any  foreign  air  which 
the  author  may  have  tried  to  lend  to  these  perform- 
ances. The  disguise  is  very  apparent.  In  those  gar- 
rulous, vivacious,  whimsical,  and  sometimes  serious 
papers,  Lien  Chi  Altangi,  writing  to  Fum  Hoam  in 
Pekin,  does  not  so  much  describe  the  aspects  of  European 
civilisation  which  would  naturally  surprise  a Chinese, 
as  he  expresses  the  dissatisfaction  of  a European  with 
certain  phases  of  the  civilisation  visible  everywhere 
around  him.  It  is  not  a Chinaman,  but  a Fleet-Street 
author  by  profession,  who  resents  the  competition  of 
noble  amateurs  whose  works — otherwise  bitter  pills 
enough — are  gilded  by  their  titles  : — “A  nobleman  has 
but  to  take  a pen,  ink,  and  paper,  write  away  through 
three  large  volumes,  and  then  sign  his  name  to  the  title- 
page  ; though  the  whole  might  have  been  before  more 
disgusting  than  his  own  rent-roll,  yet  signing  his  name 
and  title  gives  value  to  the  deed,  title  being  alone  equi- 
valent to  taste,  imagination,  and  genius.  As  soon  as  a 
piece,  therefore,  is  published,  the  first  questions  are — 
Who  is  the  author?  Does  he  keep  a coach?  Where 
lies  his  estate  ? What  sort  of  a table  does  he  keep  ? 
If  he  happens  to  be  poor  and  unqualified  for  such  a 
scrutiny,  he  and  his  works  sink  into  irremediable 
obscurity,  and  too  late  he  finds,  that  having  fed  upon 
turtle  is  a more  ready  way  to  fame  than  having  digested 
Tully.  The  poor  devil  against  whom  fashion  has  set  its 
face  vainly  alleges  that  he  has  been  bred  in  every  part 
of  Europe  wdiere  knowledge  was  to  be  sold  ; that  he  has 
grown  pale  in  the  study  of  nature  and  himself.  His 
works  may  pleare  upon  the  perusal,  but  his  pretensions 

E 2 




to  fame  are  entirely  disregarded.  He  is  treated  like  a 
fiddler,  whose  music,  though  liked,  is  not  much  praised, 
because  he  lives  by  it ; while  a gentleman  performer, 
though  the  most  wretched  scraper  alive,  throws  the 
audience  into  raptures.  The  fiddler,  indeed,  may  in 
such  a case  console  himself  by  thinking,  that  while  the 
other  goes  off  with  all  the  praise,  he  runs  away  with  all 
the  money.  But  here  the  parallel  drops  ; for  while  the 
nobleman  triumphs  in  unmerited  applause,  the  author 
by  profession  steals  off  with — nothing.” 

At  the  same  time  it  must  be  allowed  that  the  utterance 
of  these  strictures  through  the  mouth  of  a Chinese  admits 
of  a certain  naivete,  which  on  occasion  heightens  the  sar- 
casm. Lien  Chi  accompanies  the  Man  in  Black  to  a 
theatre  to  see  an  English  play.  Here  is  part  of  the 
performance  : — “ I was  going  to  second  his  remarks, 
when  my  attention  was  engrossed  by  a new  object ; a 
man  came  in  balancing  a straw  upon  his  nose,  and  the 
audience  were  clapping  their  hands  in  all  the  raptures  of 
applause.  ‘ To  what  purpose/  cried  I,  ‘ does  this  un- 
meaning figure  make  his  appearance*?  is  he  a part  of 
the  plot? 7 — ‘Unmeaning  do  you  call  him? 7 replied  my 
friend  in  black  ; ‘ this  is  one  of  the  most  important 
characters  of  the  whole  play ; nothing  pleases  the 
people  more  than  seeing  a straw  balanced  : there  is  a 
great  deal  of  meaning  in  a straw  : there  is  something 
suited  to  every  apprehension  in  the  sight  ; and  a fellow 
possessed  of  talents  like  these  is  sure  of  making  his 
fortune.7  The  third  act  now  began  with  an  actor  who 
came  to  inform  us  that  he  was  the  villain  of  the  play, 
and  intended  to  show  strange  things  before  all  was 
over.  He  was  joined  by  another  who  seemed  as  much 


disposed  for  mischief  as  he  ; their  intrigues  continued 
through  this  whole  division.  4 If  that  be  a villain/ 
said  I,  4 he  must  be  a very  stupid  one  to  tell  his  secrets 
without  being  asked ; such  soliloquies  of  late  are  never 
admitted  in  China/  The  noise  of  clapping  interrupted 
me  once  more  ; a child  six  years  old  was  learning  to 
dance  on  the  stage,  which  gave  the  ladies  and  mandarins 
infinite  satisfaction.  4 1 am  sorry/  said  I,  4 to  see  the 
pretty  creature  so  early  learning  so  bad  a trade  ; dancing 
being,  I presume,  as  contemptible  here  as  in  China/ — 
4 Quite  the  reverse/  interrupted  my  companion  ; 4 dancing 
is  a very  reputable  and  genteel  employment  here  ; men 
have  a greater  chance  for  encouragement  from  the  merit 
of  their  heels  than  their  heads.  One  who  jumps  up  and 
flourishes  his  toes  three  times  before  he  comes  to  the 
ground  may  have  three  hundred  a year  : he  who 
flourishes  them  four  times,  gets  four  hundred  ; but  he 
who  arrives  at  five  is  inestimable,  and  may  demand 
what  salary  he  thinks  proper.  The  female  dancers, 
too,  are  valued  foi  this  sort  of  jumping  and  crossing ; 
and  it  is  a cant  word  amongst  them,  that  she  deserves 
most  who  shows  highest.  But  the  fourth  act  is  begun  ; 
let  us  be  attentive/  ” 

The  Man  in  Black  here  mentioned  is  one  of  the 
notable  features  of  this  series  of  papers.  The  mys- 
terious person  whose  acquaintance  the  Chinaman  made 
in  Westminster  Abbey,  and  who  concealed  such  a 
wonderful  goodness  of  heart  under  a rough  and  for- 
bidding exterior,  is  a charming  character  indeed ; and 
it  is  impossible  to  praise  too  highly  the  vein  of  subtle 
sarcasm  in  which  he  preaches  worldly  wisdom.  But  to 
assume  that  any  part  of  his  history  which  he  disclosed 




to  the  Chinaman  was  a piece  of  autobiographical 
writing  on  the  part  of  Goldsmith,  is  a very  hazardous 
thing.  A writer  of  fiction  must  necessarily  use  such 
materials  as  have  come  within  his  own  experience ; and 
Goldsmiths  experience — or  his  use  of  those  materials — 
was  extremely  limited : witness  how  often  a pet  fancy, 
like  his  remembrance  of  Johnny  Armstrong's  Last  Good 
Night , is  repeated.  “ That  of  these  simple  elements,” 
writes  Professor  Masson,  in  his  Memoir  of  Goldsmith, 
prefixed  to  an  edition  of  his  works,  “ he  made  so  many 
charming  combinations,  really  differing  from  each  other, 
and  all,  though  suggested  by  fact,  yet  hung  so  sweetly 
in  an  ideal  air,  proved  what  an  artist  he  was,  and  was 
better  than  much  that  is  commonly  called  invention. 
In  short,  if  there  is  a sameness  of  effect  in  Goldsmith’s 
writings,  it  is  because  they  consist  of  poetry  and  truth, 
humour  and  pathos,  from  his  own  life,  and  the  supply 
from  such  a life  as  his  was  not  inexhaustible. ” 

The  question  of  invention  is  easily  disposed  of.  Any 
child  can  invent  a world  transcending  human  experience 
by  the  simple  combination  of  ideas  which  are  in  them- 
selves incongruous — a world  in  which  the  horses  have 
each  five  feet,  in  which  the  grass  is  blue  and  the  sky 
green,  in  which  seas  are  balanced  on  the  peaks  of 
mountains.  The  result  is  unbelievable  and  worthless. 
But  the  writer  of  imaginative  literature  uses  his  own 
experiences  and  the  experiences  of  others,  so  that  his 
combination  of  ideas  in  themselves  compatible  shall 
appear  so  natural  and  believable  that  the  reader — 
although  these  incidents  and  characters  never  did 
actually  exist — is  as  much  interested  in  them  as  if  they 
had  existed.  The  mischief  of  it  is  that  the  reader 


sometimes  thinks  himself  very  clever,  and,  recognising 
a little  bit  of  the  story  as  having  happened  to  the 
author,  jumps  to  the  conclusion  that  such  and  such  a 
passage  is  necessarily  autobiographical.  Hence  it  is 
that  Goldsmith  has  been  hastily  identified  with  the 
Philosophic  Vagabond  in  the  Vicar  of  Wakefield , and 
with  the  Man  in  Black  in  the  Citizen  of  the  World . 
That  he  may  have  used  certain  experiences  in  the  one, 
and  that  he  may  perhaps  have  given  in  the  other  a sort 
of  fancy  sketch  of  a person  suggested  by  some  trait  in 
his  own  character,  is  possible  enough ; but  further 
assertion  of  likeness  is  impossible.  That  the  Man  in 
Black  had  one  of  Goldsmith’s  little  weaknesses  is 
obvious  enough  : we  find  him  just  a trifle  too  conscious 
of  his  own  kindliness  and  generosity.  The  Vicar 
of  Wakefield  himself  is  not  without  a spice  of  this 
amiable  vanity.  As  for  Goldsmith,  every  one  must 
remember  his  reply  to  Griffiths’ accusation  : “No,  sir, 
had  I been  a sharper,  had  I been  possessed  of  less  good 
nature  and  native  generosity , I might  surely  now  have 
been  in  better  circumstances. ” 

The  Man  in  Black,  in  any  case,  is  a delightful  character. 
We  detect  the  warm  and  generous  nature  even  in  his  pre- 
tence of  having  acquired  worldly  wisdom  : “ I now  there- 
fore pursued  a course  of  uninterrupted  frugality,  seldom 
wanted  a dinner,  and  was  consequently  invited  to 
twenty.  I soon  began  to  get  the  character  of  a sav’ng 
hunks  that  had  money,  and  insensibly  grew  into  esteem. 
Neighbours  have  asked  my  advice  in  the  disposal  of 
their  daughters ; and  I have  always  taken  care  not  to 
give  any.  I have  contracted  a friendship  with  an 
alderman,  only  by  observing,  that  if  we  take  a farthing 




from  a thousand  pounds  it  will  be  a thousand  pounds 
no  longer.  I have  been  invited  to  a pawnbroker’s 
table,  by  pretending  to  hate  gravy ; and  am  now 
actually  upon  treaty  of  marriage  with  a rich  widow, 
for  only  having  observed  that  the  bread  was  rising. 
If  ever  I am  asked  a question,  whether  I know 
it  or  not,  instead  of  answering,  I only  smile  and  look 
wise.  If  a charity  is  proposed  I go  about  with  the 
hat,  but  put  nothing  in  myself.  If  a wretch  solicits  my 
pity,  I observe  that  the  world  is  filled  with  impostors, 
and  take  a certain  method  of  not  being  deceived  by 
never  relieving.  In  short,  I now  find  the  truest  way 
of  finding  esteem,  even  from  the  indigent,  is  to  give 
away  nothing,  and  thus  have  much  in  our  power  to 
give.”  This  is  a very  clever  piece  of  writing,  whether 
it  is  in  strict  accordance  with  the  character  of  the  Man 
in  Black,  or  not.  But  there  is  in  these  Public  Ledger 
papers  another  sketch  of  character,  which  is  not  only 
consistent  in  itself,  and  in  every  way  admirable,  but  is 
of  still  further  interest  to  us  when  we  remember  that 
at  this  time  the  various  personages  in  the  Vicar  of 
Wakefield  were  no  doubt  gradually  assuming  definite 
form  in  Goldsmith's  mind.  It  is  in  the  figure  of  Mr. 
Tibbs,  introduced  apparently  at  haphazard,  but  at  once 
taking  possession  of  us  by  its  quaint  relief,  that  we 
find  Goldsmith  showing  a firmer  hand  in  character- 
drawing. With  a few  happy  dramatic  touches  Mr. 
Tibbs  starts  into  life ; he  speaks  for  himself ; he  be- 
comes one  of  the  people  wdiom  we  know.  And  yet, 
with  this  concise  and  sharp  portraiture  of  a human 
being,  look  at  the  graceful,  almost  garrulous,  ease  of  the 
style  : — 


“ Our  pursuer  soon  came  up  and  joined  us  with  all 
the  familiarity  of  an  old  acquaintance.  ‘ My  dear 
Dry  bone,’  cries  he,  shaking  my  friend’s  hand,  6 where 
have  you  been  hiding  this  half  a century  ? Positively 
I had  fancied  you  were  gone  to  cultivate  matrimony 
and  your  estate  in  the  country.’  During  the  reply  I 
had  an  opportunity  of  surveying  the  appearance  of  our 
new  companion  : his  hat  was  pinched  up  with  peculiar 
smartness  ; his  looks  were  pale,  thin,  and  sharp ; round 
his  neck  he  wore  a broad  black  riband,  and  in  his 
bosom  a buckle  studded  with  glass ; his  coat  was 
trimmed  with  tarnished  twist ; he  wore  by  his  side  a 
sword  with  a black  hilt ; and  his  stockings  of  silk, 
though  newly  washed,  w^ere  grown  yellow  by  long 
service.  I was  so  much  engaged  with  the  peculiarity 
of  his  dress,  that  I attended  only  to  the  latter  part  of 
my  friend’s  reply,  in  which  he  complimented  Mr.  Tibbs 
on  the  taste  of  his  clothes  and  the  bloom  in  his  counte- 
nance. ‘ Pshaw,  pshaw,  Will,’  cried  the  figure,  ‘ no 
more  of  that,  if  you  love  me  : you  know  I hate  flattery, 
— on  my  soul  I do ; and  yet,  to  be  sure,  an  intimacy 
with  the  great  will  improve  one’s  appearance,  and  a 
course  of  venison  will  fatten  ; and  yet,  faith,  I despise 
the  great  as  much  as  you  do  ; but  there  are  a great 
many  damn’d  honest  fellows  among  them,  and  we  must 
not  quarrel  with  one  half,  because  the  other  wants 
weeding.  If  they  were  all  such  as  my  Lord  Mudler,  one 
of  the  most  good-natured  creatures  that  ever  squeezed 
a lemon,  I should  myself  be  among  the  number  of  their 
admirers.  I was  yesterday  to  dine  at  the  Duchess 
of  Piccadilly’s.  My  lord  was  there.  “Ned,”  says 
he  to  me,  “Ned,”  says  he,  “I’ll  hold  gold  to  silver, 




I can  tell  you  where  you  were  poaching  last  night.” 
“ Poaching,  my  lord?”  says  I:  “ faith,  you  have 

missed  already  ; for  I staid  at  home  and  let  the  girls 
poach  for  me.  That’s  my  way  : I take  a fine  woman 
as  some  animals  do  their  prey — stand  still,  and,  swoop, 
they  fall  into  my  mouth.” ’ ‘Ah,  Tibbs,  thou  art  a 
happy  fellow/  cried  my  companion,  with  looks  of 
infinite  pity ; ‘ I hope  your  fortune  is  as  much  im- 
proved as  your  understanding,  in  such  company  ? ’ 
‘ Improved! 5 replied  the  other:  ‘ you  shall  know, — 
but  let  it  go  no  farther — a great  secret — five  hundred 
a year  to  begin  with — my  lord’s  word  of  honour  for  it. 
His  lordship  took  me  down  in  his  own  chariot  yesterday, 
and  we  had  a tete-a-tete  dinner  in  the  country,  where 
we  talked  of  nothing  else.’ — ‘I  fancy  you  forget,  sir,’ 
cried  I ; ‘ you  told  us  but  this  moment  of  your  dining 
yesterday  in  town.’ — ‘Did  I say  so  L replied  he, 
coolly;  ‘to  be  sure,  if  I said  so,  it  was  so.  Dined  in 
town  ! egad,  now  I do  remember,  I did  dine  in  town  ; 
but  I dined  in  the  country  too ; for  you  must  know, 
my  boys,  I ate  two  dinners.  By  the  bye,  I am  grown 
as  nice  as  the  devil  in  my  eating.  I’ll  tell  you  a 
pleasant  affair  about  that  : we  were  a select  party  of 
us  to  dine  at  Lady  Grogram’s, — an  affected  piece,  but 
let  it  go  no  farther — a secret. — Well,  there  happened 
to  be  no  asafoetida  in  the  sauce  to  a turkey,  upon  which, 
says  I,  I'll  hold  a thousand  guineas,  and  say  done,  first, 
that — But,  dear  Drybone,  you  are  an  honest  creature ; 
lend  me  half-a-crown  for  a minute  or  two,  or  so,  just 

till ; but  hearkee,  ask  me  for  it  the  next  time 

we  meet,  or  it  may  be  twenty  to  one  but  I forget  to 
pay  you.’  ” 


Returning  from  these  performances  to  the  author  of 
them,  we  find  him  a busy  man  of  letters,  becoming  more 
and  more  in  request  among  the  booksellers,  and  obtaining 
lecognition  among  his  fellow-writers.  He  had  moved 
into  better  lodgings  in  Wine  Office  Court  (17 GO-2) ; and  it 
was  here  that  he  entertained  at  supper,  as  has  already 
been  mentioned,  no  less  distinguished  guests  than 
Bishop,  then  Mr.,  Percy,  and  Dr.,  then  Mr.,  Johnson. 
Every  one  has  heard  of  the  surprise  of  Percy,  on  calling 
for  Johnson,  to  find  the  great  Cham  dressed  with  quite 
unusual  smartness.  On  asking  the  cause  of  this 
“ singular  transformation,”  Johnson  replied,  “ Why, 
sir,  I hear  that  Goldsmith,  who  is  a very  great  sloven, 
justifies  his  disregard  of  cleanliness  and  decency  by 
quoting  my  practice  ; and  I am  desirous  this  night  to 
show  him  a better  example.”  That  Goldsmith  profited 
by  this  example — though  the  tailors  did  not — is  clear 
enough.  At  times,  indeed,  he  blossomed  out  into  the 
splendours  of  a dandy ; and  laughed  at  himself  for 
doing  so.  But  whether  he  was  in  gorgeous  cr  in  mean 
attire,  he  remained  the  same  sort  of  ha ppy-go  lucky 
creature ; working  hard  by  fits  and  starts  ; continually 
getting  money  in  advance  from  the  booksellers  ; enjoying 
the  present  hour  ; and  apparently  happy  enough  when 
not  pressed  by  debt.  That  he  should  have  been  thus 
pressed  was  no  necessity  of  the  case ; at  all  events  we 
need  not  on  this  score  begin  now  to  abuse  the  book- 
sellers or  the  public  of  that  day.  We  may  dismiss  once 
for  all  the  oft-repeated  charges  of  ingratitude  and  neglect. 

When  Goldsmith  was  writing  those  letters  in  the  Public 
Ledger — with  “ pleasure  and  instruction  for  others,” 
Mr.  Forster  says?  “ though  at  the  cost  of  suffering  to 




himself  ” — he  was  receiving  for  them  alone  what  would 
be  equivalent  in  our  day  to  <£200  a year.  No  man  can 
affirm  that  £200  a year  is  not  amply  sufficient  for  all  the 
material  wants  of  life.  Of  course  there  are  fine  things  in 
the  world  that  that  amount  of  annual  wage  cannot  pur- 
chase. It  is  a fine  thing  to  sit  on  the  deck  of  a yacht  on 
a summer’s  day,  and  watch  the  far  islands  shining  over  the 
blue ; it  is  a fine  thing  to  drive  four-in-hand  to  Ascot — - 
if  you  can  do  it ; it  is  a fine  thing  to  cower  breathless 
behind  a rock  and  find  a splendid  stag  coming  slowly 
within  sure  range.  But  these  things  are  not  necessary 
to  human  happiness  : it  is  possible  to  do  without  them 
and  yet  not  “ suffer.”  Even  if  Goldsmith  had  given 
half  of  his  substance  away  to  the  poor,  there  was  enough 
left  to  cover  all  the  necessary  wants  of  a human  being  ; 
and  if  he  chose  so  to  order  his  affairs  as  to  incur  the 
suffering  of  debt,  why,  that  was  his  own  business, 
about  which  nothing  further  needs  be  said.  It  is  to  be 
suspected,  indeed,  that  he  did  not  care  to  practise  those 
excellent  maxims  of  prudence  and  frugality  which  he 
frequently  preached  ; but  the  world  is  not  much  con- 
cerned about  that  now.  If  Goldsmith  had  received  ten 
times  as  much  money  as  the  booksellers  gave  him,  he 
would  still  have  died  in  debt.  And  it  is  just  possible 
that  we  may  exaggerate  Goldsmith’s  sensitiveness  on 
this  score.  He  had  had  a life-long  familiarity  with 
duns  and  borrowing  ; and  seemed  very  contented  when 
the  exigency  of  the  hour  was  tided  over.  An  angry 
landlady  is  unpleasant,  and  an  arrest  is  awkward ; but 
in  comes  an  opportune  guinea,  and  the  bottle  of  Madeira 
is  opened  forthwith. 

In  these  rooms  in  Wine  Office  Court,  and  at  the 


suggestion  or  entreaty  of  Newbery,  Goldsmith  produced 
a good  deal  of  miscellaneous  writing — pamphlets,  tracts, 
compilations,  and  what  not — of  a more  or  less  market- 
able kind.  It  can  only  be  surmised  that  by  this  time 
he  may  have  formed  some  idea  of  producing  a book  not 
solely  meant  for  the  market,  and  that  the  characters  in 
the  Vicar  of  Wakefield  were  already  engaging  his  atten- 
tion ; but  the  surmise  becomes  probable  enough  when 
we  remember  that  his  project  of  writing  the  Traveller , 
which  was  not  published  till  1764,  had  been  formed  as 
far  back  as  1755,  while  he  was  wandering  aimlessly 
about  Europe,  and  that  a sketch  of  the  poem  was  actually 
forwarded  by  him  then  to  his  brother  Henry  in  Ireland. 
But  in  the  meantime  this  hack-work,  and  the  habits  of 
life  connected  with  it,  began  to  tell  on  Goldsmith’s 
health;  and  so,  for  a time,  he  left  London  (1762),  and 
went  to  Tunbridge  and  then  to  Bath.  It  is  scarcely 
possible  that  his  modest  fame  had  preceded  him  to  the 
latter  place  of  fashion ; but  it  may  be  that  the  distin- 
guished folk  of  the  town  received  this  friend  of  the  great 
Dr.  Johnson  with  some  small  measure  of  distinction ; 
for  we  find  that  his  next  published  work,  Tlie  Life  of 
Richard  Nash,  Esq.,  is  respectfully  dedicated  to  the 
Bight  Worshipful  the  Mayor,  Becorder,  Aldermen,  and 
Common  Council  of  the  City  of  Bath.  The  Life  of  the 
recently  deceased  Master  of  Ceremonies  was  published 
anonymously  (1762)  ; but  it  was  generally  understood  to 
be  Goldsmith’s ; and  indeed  the  secret  of  the  author- 
ship is  revealed  in  every  successive  line.  Among  the 
minor  writings  of  Goldsmith  there  is  none  more  delight- 
ful than  this  : the  mock-heroic  gravity,  the  half-familiar 
contemptuous  good-nature  with  which  he  composes 




this  Funeral  March  of  a Marionette,  are  extremely 
whimsical  and  amusing.  And  then  what  an  admirable 
picture  we  get  of  fashionable  English  society  in  the 
beginning  of  the  eighteenth  century,  when  Bath  and 
Nash  were  alike  in  the  heyday  of  their  glory — the  fine 
ladies  with  their  snuff-boxes,  and  their  passion  for  play, 
and  their  extremely  effective  language  when  they  got 
angry  ; young  bucks  come  to  flourish  away  their  money, 
and  gain  by  their  losses  the  sympathy  of  the  fair  ; 
sharpers  on  the  look-out  for  guineas,  and  adventurers 
on  the  look-out  for  weak-minded  heiresses  ; duchesses 
writing  letters  in  the  most  doubtful  English,  and  chair- 
men swearing  at  any  one  who  dared  to  walk  home  on 
foot  at  night. 

No  doubt  the  Life  of  Beau  Nash  was  a bookseller’s 
book  ; and  it  was  made  as  attractive  as  possible  by  the 
recapitulation  of  all  sorts  of  romantic  stories  about 

Miss  S — - — n,  and  Mr.  C e,  and  Captain  K g; 

but  throughout  we  find  the  historian  very  much  in- 
clined to  laugh  at  his  hero,  and  only  refraining  now  and 
again  in  order  to  record  in  serious  language  traits 
indicative  of  the  real  goodness  of  disposition  of  that  fop 
and  gambler.  And  the  fine  ladies  and  gentlemen,  who 
lived  in  that  atmosphere  of  scandal,  and  intrigue,  and 
gambling,  are  also  from  time  to  time  treated  to  a little 
decorous  and  respectful  raillery.  Who  does  not  re- 
member the  famous  laws  of  polite  breeding  written  out 
by  Mr.  Nash — Goldsmith  hints  that  neither  Mr.  Nash 
nor  his  fair  correspondent  at  Blenheim,  the  Duchess  of 
Marlborough,  excelled  in  English  composition — for  the 
guidance  of  the  ladies  and  gentlemen  who  were  under 
the  sway  of  the  King  of  Bath  ? “ But  were  we  to  give 


laws  to  a nursery,  we  should  make  them  childish  laws,” 
Goldsmith  writes  gravely.  “ His  statutes,  though  stupid, 
were  addressed  to  fine  gentlemen  and  ladies,  and  were 
probably  received  with  sympathetic  approbation.  It  is 
certain  they  were  in  general  religiously  observed  by  his 
subjects,  and  executed  by  him  with  impartiality  ; neither 
rank  nor  fortune  shielded  the  refractory  from  his  re- 
sentment. ” Nash,  however,  was  not  content  with  prose 
in  enforcing  good  manners.  Having  waged  deadly  war 
against  the  custom  of  wearing  boots,  and  having  found 
his  ordinary  armoury  of  no  avail  against  the  obduracy 
of  the  country  squires,  he  assailed  them  in  the  im- 
passioned language  of  poetry,  and  produced  the  following 
“Invitation  to  the  Assembly/’  which,  as  Goldsmith 
remarks,  was  highly  relished  by  the  nobility  at  Bath  on 
account  of  its  keenness,  severity,  and  particularly  its 
good  rhymes. 

“ Come,  one  and  all,  to  Hoyden  Hall, 

For  there’s  the  assembly  this  night ; 

None  but  prude  fools 
Mind  manners  and  rules  ; 

We  Hoydens  do  decency  slight. 

Come,  trollops  and  slatterns, 

Cocked  bats  and  white  aprons, 

This  best  our  modesty  suits  ; 

For  why  should  not  we 
In  dress  be  as  free 
As  Hogs-Norton  squires  in  boots  ?” 

The  sarcasm  was  too  much  for  the  squires,  who  yielded 
in  a body  ; and  when  any  stranger  through  inadvertence 
presented  himself  in  the  assembly-rooms  in  boots,  Nash 
was  so  completely  master  of  the  situation  that  he  would 

64  GOLDSMITH.  t [chap. 

politely  step  up  to  the  intruder  and  suggest  that  he  had 
forgotten  his  horse. 

Goldsmith  does  not  magnify  the  intellectual  capacity 
of  his  hero ; but  he  gives  him  credit  for  a sort  of 
rude  wit  that  was  sometimes  effective  enough.  His 
physician,  for  example,  having  called  on  him  to  see 
whether  he  had  followed  a prescription  that  had  been 
sent  him  the  previous  day,  was  greeted  in  this  fashion  : 
“ Followed  your  prescription  % Ho.  Egad,  if  I had, 
1 should  have  broken  my  neck,  for  I flung  it  out 
of  the  two  pair  of  stairs  window.”  For  the  rest,  this 
diverting  biography  contains  some  excellent  warnings 
against  the  vice  of  gambling ; with  a particular  account 
of  the  manner  in  which  the  Government  of  the  day  tried 
by  statute  after  statute  to  suppress  the  tables  at  Tun- 
bridge and  Bath,  thereby  only  driving  the  sharpers  to 
new  subterfuges.  That  the  Beau  was  in  alliance  with 
sharpers,  or,  at  least,  that  he  was  a sleeping  partner  in 
the  firm,  his  biographer  admits ; but  it  is  urged  on  his 
behalf  that  he  was  the  most  generous  of  winners,  and 
again  and  again  interfered  to  prevent  the  ruin  of  some 
gambler  by  whose  folly  he  would  himself  have  profited. 
His  constant  charity  was  well  known ; the  money  so 
lightly  come  by  was  at  the  disposal  of  any  one  who 
could  prefer  a piteous  tale.  Moreover  he  made  no 
scruple  about  exacting  from  others  that  charity  which 
they  could  well  afford.  One  may  easily  guess  who  was 
the  duchess  mentioned  in  the  following  story  of  Gold- 
smith’s narration  : — 

“ The  sums  he  gave  and  collected  for  the  Hospital  were 
great,  and  his  manner  of  doing  it  was  no  less  admirable. 
I am  told  that  he  was  once  collecting  money  in  Wilt- 


shire’s  room  for  that  purpose,  when  a lady  entered,  who 
is  more  remarkable  for  her  wit  than  her  charity,  and 
not  being  able  to  pass  by  him  unobserved,  she  gave  him 
a pat  with  her  fan,  and  said,  4 You  must  put  down  a 
trifle  for  me,  Nash,  for  I have  no  money  in  my  pocket.’ 
4 Yes,  madam,’  says  he,  4 that  I will  with  pleasure,  if 
your  grace  will  tell  me  when  to  stop ; ’ then  taking  an 
handful  of  guineas  out  of  his  pocket,  he  began  to  tell 
them  into  his  white  hat  — 4 One,  two,  three,  four, 

five ’ 4 Hold,  hold  ! ’ says  the  duchess,  4 consider 

what  you  are  about.’  ‘Consider  your  rank  and  fortune, 
madam,’  says  Nash,  and  continues  telling — 4 six,  seven, 
eight,  nine,  ten.’  Here  the  duchess  called  again,  and 
seemed  angry.  4 Pray  compose  yourself,  madam,’  cried 
Nash,  4 and  don’t  interrupt  the  work  of  charity, — eleven, 
twelve,  thirteen,  fourteen,  fifteen.’  Here  the  duchess 
stormed,  and  caught  hold  of  his  hand.  4 Peace,  madam,’ 
says  Nash,  ‘you  shall  have  your  name  written  in  letters 
of  gold,  madam,  and  upon  the  front  of  the  building, 
madam, — sixteen,  seventeen,  eighteen,  nineteen,  twenty.’ 
4 1 won’t  pay  a farthing  more,’  says  the  duchess. 

4 Charity  hides  a multitude  of  sins,’  replies  Nash,*— 
‘twenty-one,  twenty- two,  twenty-three,  twenty-four, 
twenty-five.’  4 Nash,’  says  she,  4 1 protest  you  frighten 
me  out  of  my  wits.  L — d,  I shall  die  I ’ 4 Madam, 

you  will  never  die  with  doing  good ; and  if  you  do,  it 
will  be  the  better  for  you,’  answered  Nash,  and  was 
about  to  proceed ; but  perceiving  her  grace  had  lost  all 
patience,  a parley  ensued,  when  he,  after  much  alterca- 
tion, agreed  to  stop  his  hand  and  compound  with  her 
grace  for  thirty  guineas.  The  duchess,  however,  seemed 
displeased  the  whole  evening,  and  when  he  came  to  the 




[oh.  VII. 

table  where  she  was  playing,  bid  him,  ‘ Stand  farther, 
an  ugly  devil,  for  she  hated  the  sight  of  him/  But  her 
grace  afterwards  having  a run  of  good  luck,  called  Nash 
to  her.  ‘ Come/  says  she,  i I will  be  friends  with  you, 
though  you  are  a fool;  and  to  let  you  see  I am  not 
angry,  there  is  ten  guineas  more  for  your  charity.  But 
this  I insist  on,  that  neither  my  name  nor  the  sum  shall 
be  mentioned/  ” 

At  the  ripe  age  of  eighty- seven  the  “ beau  of  three 
generations”  breathed  his  last  (1761);  and,  though  he 
had  fallen  into  poor  ways,  there  were  those  alive  who 
remembered  his  former  greatness,  and  who  chronicled 
it  in  a series  of  epitaphs  and  poetical  lamentations. 
“ One  thing  is  common  almost  with  all  of  them,”  says 
Goldsmith,  “ and  that  is  that  Yenus,  Cupid,  and  the 
Graces  are  commanded  to  weep,  and  that  Bath  shall 
never  find  such  another.”  These  effusions  are  forgotten 
now;  and  so  wmuld  Beau  Nash  be  also,  but  for  this 
biography,  which,  no  doubt  meant  merely  for  the  book- 
market  of  the  day,  lives  and  is  of  permanent  value  by 
reason  of  the  charm  of  its  style,  its  pervading  humour, 
and  the  vivacity  of  its  descriptions  of  the  fashionable 
follies  of  the  eighteenth  century.  Nullum  fere  genus 
scribendi  non  tetigit.  Nullum  quod  tetigit  non  ornavit. 
Who  but  Goldsmith  could  have  written  so  delightful 
a book  about  such  a poor  creature  as  Beau  Nash? 



It  was  no  doubt  owing  to  Newbery  that  Goldsmith, 
after  his  return  to  London,  was  induced  to  abandon, 
temporarily  or  altogether,  his  apartments  in  Wine  Office 
Court,  and  take  lodgings  in  the  house  of  a Mrs.  Fleming, 
who  lived  somewhere  or  other  in  Islington.  Newbery 
had  rooms  in  Canonbury  House,  a curious  old  building 
that  still  exists ; and  it  may  have  occurred  to  the 
publisher  that  Goldsmith,  in  this  suburban  district, 
would  not  only  be  nearer  him  for  consultation  and  so 
forth,  but  also  might  pay  more  attention  to  his  duties 
than  when  he  was  among  the  temptations  of  Fleet  Street. 
Goldsmith  was  working  industriously  in  the  service  of 
Newbery  at  this  time  (1763-4) ; in  fact,  so  completely  was 
the  bookseller  in  possession  of  the  hack,  that  Goldsmith’s 
board  and  lodging  in  Mrs.  Fleming’s  house,  arranged  for 
at  i>50  a year,  was  paid  by  Newbery  himself.  Writing 
prefaces,  revising  new  editions,  contributing  reviews — 
this  was  the  sort  of  work  he  undertook,  with  more  or 
less  content,  as  the  equivalent  of  the  modest  sums  Mr. 
Newbery  disbursed  for  him  or  handed  over  as  pocket- 
money.  In  the  midst  of  all  this  drudgery  he  was 
now  secretly  engaged  on  work  that  aimed  at  something 

f 2 



higher  than  mere  payment  of  bed  and  board.  The 
smooth  lines  of  the  Traveller  were  receiving  further 
polish ; the  gentle-natured  Vicar  was  writing  his  simple, 
quaint,  tender  story.  And  no  doubt  Goldsmith  was 
spurred  to  try  something  better  than  hack-work  by  the 
associations  that  he  was  now  forming,  chiefly  under  the 
wise  and  benevolent  friendship  of  Johnson. 

Anxious  always  to  be  thought  well  of,  he  was  now  be- 
ginning to  meet  people  whose  approval  was  worthy  of  being 
sought.  He  had  been  introduced  to  Reynolds.  He  had 
become  the  friend  of  Hogarth.  He  had  even  made  the 
acquaintance  of  Mr.  Boswell,  from  Scotland.  Moreover, 
he  had  been  invited  to  become  one  of  the  original  members 
of  the  famous  Club  of  which  so  much  has  been  written ; 
his  fellow-members  being  Reynolds,  Johnson,  Burke, 
Hawkins,  Beauclerk,  Bennet  Langton,  and  Dr.  Nugent. 
It  is  almost  certain  that  it  was  at  Johnson’s  instiga- 
tion that  he  had  been  admitted  into  this  choice  fellow- 
ship. Long  before  either  the  Traveller  or  the  Vicar  had 
been  heard  of,  Johnson  had  perceived  the  literary  genius 
that  obscurely  burned  in  the  uncouth  figure  of  this 
Irishman ; and  was  anxious  to  impress  on  others  Gold- 
smith’s claims  to  respect  and  consideration.  In  the 
minute  record  kept  by  Boswell  of  his  first  evening  with 
Johnson  at  the  Mitre  Tavern,  we  find  Johnson  saying, 
“ Dr.  Goldsmith  is  one  of  the  first  men  we  now  have  as 
an  author,  and  he  is  a very  worthy  man  too.  He  has 
been  loose  in  his  principles,  but  he  is  coming  right.” 
Johnson  took  walks  with  Goldsmith;  did  him  the  honour 
of  disputing  with  him  on  all  occasions ; bought  a copy  of 
the  Life  of  Nash  when  it  appeared — an  unusual  compli- 
ment for  one  author  to  pay  another,  in  their  day  or  in 




ours  ; allowed  liim  to  call  on  Miss  Williams,  the  blind  old 
lady  in  Bolt  Court ; and  generally  was  his  friend,  coun- 
sellor, and  champion.  Accordingly,  when  Mr.  Boswell 
entertained  the  great  Cham  to  supper  at  the  Mitre — a 
sudden  quarrel  with  his  landlord  having  made  it  im- 
possible for  him  to  order  the  banquet  at  his  own  house — 
he  was  careful  to  have  Dr.  Goldsmith  of  the  company. 
His  guests  that  evening  were  Johnson,  Goldsmith,  Davies 
(the  actor  and  bookseller  who  had  conferred  on  Boswell 
the  invaluable  favour  of  an  introduction  to  Johnson), 
Mr.  Eccles,  and  the  Bev.  Mr.  Ogilvie,  a Scotch  poet 
who  deserves  our  gratitude  because  it  was  his  inoppor- 
tune patriotism  that  provoked,  on  this  very  evening, 
the  memorable  epigram  about  the  high-road  leading  to 
England.  “ Goldsmith,”  says  Boswell,  who  had  not 
got  over  his  envy  at  Goldsmith’s  being  allowed  to  visit 
the  blind  old  pensioner  in  Bolt-court,  “ as  usual,  en- 
deavoured with  too  much  eagerness  to  shine,  and  disputed 
very  warmly  with  Johnson  against  the  well-known 
maxim  of  the  British  constitution,  4 The  king  can  do  no 
wrong.’  ” It  was  a dispute  not  so  much  about  facts  as 
about  phraseology ; and,  indeed,  there  seems  to  be  no 
great  warmth  in  the  expressions  used  on  either  side. 
Goldsmith  affirmed  that  u what  was  morally  false  could 
not  be  politically  true ; ” and  that,  in  short,  the  king 
could  by  the  misuse  of  his  regal  power  do  wrong. 
Johnson  replied,  that,  in  such  a case,  the  immediate 
agents  of  the  king  were  the  persons  to  be  tried  and 
punished  for  the  offence.  “The  king,  though  he  should 
command,  cannot  force  a judge  to  condemn  a man 
unjustly ; therefore  it  is  the  judge  whom  we  prosecute 
and  punish.”  But  when  he  stated  that  the  king  “ is 




above  everything,  and  there  is  no  power  by  which  he  can 
be  tried,”  he  was  surely  forgetting  an  important  chapter 
in  English  history.  “What  did  Cromwell  do  for  his 
country1?”  he  himself  asked,  during  his  subsequent  visit 
to  Scotland,  of  old  Auchinleck,  Boswell’s  father.  “ God, 
Doctor,”  replied  the  vile  Whig,  “he  garred  kings  ken 
they  had  a lith  in  their  necks.” 

For  some  time  after  this  evening  Goldsmith  drops 
out  of  Boswell’s  famous  memoir ; perhaps  the  compiler 
was  not  anxious  to  give  him  too  much  prominence. 
They  had  not  liked  each  other  from  the  outset. 
Boswell,  vexed  by  the  greater  intimacy  of  Goldsmith 
with  Johnson,  called  him  a blunderer,  a feather-brained 
person ; and  described  his  appearance  in  no  flattering 
terms.  Goldsmith,  on  the  other  hand,  on  being  asked 
who  was  this  Scotch  cur  that  followed  Johnson’s  heels, 
answered,  “ He  is  not  a cur  : you  are  too  severe — he  is 
only  a bur.  Tom  Davies  flung  him  at  Johnson  in  sport, 
and  he  has  the  faculty  of  sticking.”  Boswell  would 
probably  have  been  more  tolerant  of  Goldsmith  as  a 
rival,  if  he  could  have  known  that  on  a future  day  he 
was  to  have  Johnson  all  to  himself — to  carry  him  to 
remote  wilds  and  exhibit  him  as  a portentous  literary 
phenomenon  to  Highland  lairds.  It  is  true  that 
Johnson,  at  an  early  period  of  his  acquaintance  with 
Boswell,  did  talk  vaguely  about  a trip  to  the  Hebrides ; 
but  the  young  Scotch  idolater  thought  it  was  all  too 
good  to  be  true.  The  mention  of  Sir  James  Macdonald, 
says  Boswell,  “ led  us  to  talk  of  the  Western  Islands 
of  Scotland,  to  visit  which  he  expressed  a wish  that 
then  appeared  to  me  a very  romantic  fancy,  which  I 
little  thought  would  be  afterwards  realised.  He  told 




me  that  his  father  had  put  Martin’s  account  of  those 
islands  into  his  hands  when  he  was  very  young,  and 
that  he  was  highly  pleased  with  it ; that  he  was  par- 
ticularly struck  with  the  St.  Kilda  man’s  notion  that 
the  high  church  of  Glasgow  had  been  hollowed  out  of 
a rock ; a circumstance  to  which  old  Mr.  Johnson  had 
directed  his  attention.”  Unfortunately  Goldsmith  not 
only  disappears  from  the  pages  of  Boswell’s  biography 
at  this  time,  but  also  in  great  measure  from  the  ken 
of  his  companions.  He  was  deeply  in  debt ; no  doubt 
the  fine  clothes  he  had  been  ordering  from  Mr.  Filby 
in  order  that  he  might  “ shine  ” among  those  notable 
persons,  had  something  to  do  with  it ; he  had  tried  the 
patience  of  the  booksellers ; and  he  had  been  devoting 
a good  deal  of  time  to  work  not  intended  to  elicit 
immediate  payment.  The  most  patient  endeavours  to 
trace  out  his  changes  of  lodgings,  and  the  fugitive 
writings  that  kept  him  in  daily  bread,  have  not  been 
very  successful.  It  is  to  be  presumed  that  Goldsmith 
had  occasionally  to  go  into  hiding  to  escape  from  his 
creditors ; and  so  was  missed  from  his  familiar  haunts. 
We  only  reach  daylight  again,  to  find  Goldsmith  being 
under  threat  of  arrest  from  his  landlady ; and  for  the 
particulars  of  this  famous  affair  it  is  necessary  to  return 
to  Boswell. 

Boswell  was  not  in  London  at  that  time ; but  his 
account  was  taken  down  subsequently  from  Johnson’s 
narration ; and  his  accuracy  in  other  matters,  his  extra- 
ordinary memory,  and  scrupulous  care,  leave  no  doubt 
in  the  mind  that  his  version  of  the  story  is  to  be  pre- 
ferred to  those  of  Mrs.  Piozzi  and  Sir  John  Hawkins. 
We  may  take  it  that  these  are  Johnson’s  own  words  : — 




“ I received  one  morning  a message  from  poor  Goldsmith 
that  he  was  in  great  distress,  and,  as  it  was  not  in  his 
power  to  come  to  me,  begging  that  I would  come  to  him 
as  soon  as  possible.  I sent  him  a guinea,  and  promised 
to  come  to  him  directly.  I accordingly  went  as  soon 
as  I was  dressed,  and  found  that  his  landlady  had 
arrested  him  for  his  rent,  at  which  he  was  in  a violent 
passion.  I perceived  that  he  had  already  changed  my 
guinea,  and  had  got  a bottle  of  Madeira  and  a glass 
before  him.  I put  the  cork  into  the  bottle,  desired  he 
would  be  calm,  and  began  to  talk  to  him  of  the  means  by 
which  he  might  be  extricated.  He  then  told  me  that 
he  had  a novel  ready  for  the  press,  which  he  produced 
to  me.  I looked  into  it,  and  saw  its  merit ; told  the 
landlady  I should  soon  return  ; and,  having  gone  to  a 
bookseller,  sold  it  for  £60.  I brought  Goldsmith  the 
money,  and  he  discharged  his  rent,  not  without  rating 
his  landlady  in  a high  tone  for  having  used  him  so  ill.” 
We  do  not  know  who  this  landlady  was — it  cannot 
now  be  made  out  whether  the  incident  occurred  at  Isling- 
ton, or  in  the  rooms  that  Goldsmith  partially  occupied  in 
the  Temple ; but  even  if  Mrs.  Fleming  be  the  landlady 
in  question,  she  was  deserving  neither  of  Goldsmith’s 
rating  nor  of  the  reprimands  that  have  been  bestowed 
upon  her  by  later  writers.  Mrs.  Fleming  had  been 
exceedingly  kind  to  Goldsmith.  Again  and  again  in 
her  bills  we  find  items  significantly  marked  £0  Os.  0 d. 
And  if  her  accounts  with  her  lodger  did  get  hopelessly 
into  arrear ; and  if  she  was  annoyed  by  seeing  him  go 
out  in  fine  clothes  to  sup  at  the  Mitre;  and  if,  at 
length,  her  patience  gave  way,  and  she  determined  to 
have  her  rights  in  one  way  or  another,  she  was  no  worse 




than  landladies — who  are  only  human  beings,  and  not 
divinely  appointed  protectresses  of  genius— ordinarily 
are.  Mrs.  Piozzi  says  that  when  Johnson  came  back 
with  the  money,  Goldsmith  “ called  the  woman  of  the 
house  directly  to  partake  of  punch,  and  pass  their  time 
in  merriment/’  This  would  be  a dramatic  touch ; but, 
after  Johnson’s  quietly  corking  the  bottle  of  Madeira, 
it  is  more  likely  that  no  such  thing  occurred ; especially 
as  Boswell  quotes  the  statement  as  an  “ extreme  in- 

The  novel  which  Johnson  had  taken  away  and  sold 
to  Francis  Newbery,  a nephew  of  the  elder  bookseller, 
was,  as  every  one  knows,  the  Vicar  of  Wakefield . That 
Goldsmith,  amidst  all  his  pecuniary  distresses,  should 
have  retained  this  piece  in  his  desk,  instead  of  pawning 
or  promising  it  to  one  of  his  bookselling  patrons,  points 
to  but  one  conclusion — that  he  was  building  high  hopes 
on  it,  and  was  determined  to  make  it  as  good  as  lay 
within  his  power.  Goldsmith  put  an  anxious  finish  into 
all  his  better  work  ; perhaps  that  is  the  secret  of  the 
graceful  ease  that  is  now  apparent  in  every  line.  Any 
young  writer  who  may  imagine  that  the  power  of  clear 
and  concise  literary  expression  comes  by  nature,  cannot 
do  better  than  study,  in  Mr.  Cunningham’s  big  collec- 
tion of  Goldsmith’s  writings,  the  continual  and  minute 
alterations  which  the  author  considered  necessary  even 
after  the  first  edition— sometimes  when  the  second  and 
third  editions — had  been  published.  Many  of  these, 
especially  in  the  poetical  works,  were  merely  improve- 
ments in  sound  as  suggested  by  a singularly  sensitive 
ear,  as  when  he  altered  the  line 

“ Amidst  the  ruin,  heedless  of  the  dead,” 



[CH.  VIII. 

which  had  appeared  in  the  first  three  editions  of  the 
Traveller , into 

“ There  in  the  ruin,  heedless  of  the  dead,” 

which  appeared  in  the  fourth.  But  the  majority  of  the 
omissions  and  corrections  were  prompted  by  a careful 
taste,  that  abhorred  everything  redundant  or  slovenly. 
It  has  been  suggested  that  when  Johnson  carried  off  the 
Vicar  of  Wakefield  to  Francis  Newbery,  the  manuscript 
was  not  quite  finished,  but  had  to  be  completed  after- 
wards. There  was  at  least  plenty  of  time  for  that. 
Newbery  does  not  appear  to  have  imagined  that  he 
had  obtained  a prize  in  the  lottery  of  literature.  He 
paid  the  £60  for  it — clearly  on  the  assurance  of  the 
great  father  of  learning  of  the  day,  that  there  was 
merit  in  the  little  story — somewhere  about  the  end 
of  1764;  but  the  tale  was  not  issued  to  the  public 
until  March,  1766.  “ And,  sir,”  remarked  Johnson  to 

Boswell,  with  regard  to  the  sixty  pounds,  “ a sufficient 
price  too,  when  it  was  sold  ; for  then  the  fame  of 
Goldsmith  had  not  been  elevated,  as  it  afterwards  was, 
by  his  Traveller ; and  the  bookseller  had  such  faint 
hopes  of  profit  by  his  bargain,  that  he  kept  the 
manuscript  by  him  a long  time,  and  did  not  publish  it 
till  after  the  Traveller  had  appeared.  Then,  to  be  sure, 
it  was  accidentally  worth  more  money.” 



This  poem  of  the  Traveller , the  fruit  of  much  secret 
labour  and  the  consummation  of  the  hopes  of  many 
years,  was  lying  completed  in  Goldsmith’s  desk  when 
the  incident  of  the  arrest  occurred ; and  the  elder 
Xewbery  had  undertaken  to  publish  it.  Then,  as  at 
other  times,  Johnson  lent  this  wayward  child  of  genius 
a friendly  hand.  He  read  over  the  proof-sheets  for 
Goldsmith : was  so  kind  as  to  put  in  a line  here  or 
there  where  he  thought  fit ; and  prepared  a notice  of  the 
poem  for  the  Critical  Review . The  time  for  the  appear- 
ance of  this  new  claimant  for  poetical  honours  was 
propitious.  “There  was  perhaps  no  point  in  the 
century,”  says  Professor  Masson,  “ when  the  British 
Muse,  such  as  she  had  come  to  be,  was  doing  less,  or 
had  so  nearly  ceased  to  do  anything,  or  to  have  any 
good  opinion  of  herself,  as  precisely  about  the  year 
1764.  Young  was  dying;  Gray  was  recluse  and  in- 
dolent ; Johnson  had  long  given  over  his  metrical 
experimentations  on  any  except  the  most  inconsiderable 
scale  ; Akenside,  Armstrong,  Smollett,  and  others  less 
known,  had  pretty  well  revealed  the  amount  of  their 




worth  in  poetry ; and  Churchill,  after  his  ferocious  blaze 
of  what  was  really  rage  and  declamation  in  metre, 
though  conventionally  it  was  called  poetry,  was  pre- 
maturely defunct.  Into  this  lull  came  Goldsmiths 
short  but  carefully  finished  poem.,,  “ There  has  not 
been  so  fine  a poem  since  Pope’s  time,”  remarked 
Johnson  to  Boswell,  on  the  very  first  evening  after  the 
return  of  young  Auchinleck  to  London.  It  would  have 
been  no  matter  for  surprise  had  Goldsmith  dedicated  this 
first  work  that  he  published  under  his  own  name  to 
Johnson,  who  had  for  so  long  been  his  constant  friend 
and  adviser ; and  such  a dedication  would  have  carried 
weight  in  certain  quarters.  But  there  was  a finer  touch 
in  Goldsmith’s  thought  of  inscribing  the  book  to  his 
brother  Henry ; and  no  doubt  the  public  were  surprised 
and  pleased  to  find  a poor  devil  of  an  author  dedicating 
a work  to  an  Irish  parson  with  £40  a year,  from  whom 
he  could  not  well  expect  any  return.  It  will  be 
remembered  that  it  was  to  this  brother  Henry  that 
Goldsmith,  ten  years  before,  had  sent  the  first  sketch 
of  the  poem ; and  now  the  wanderer, 

“ Remote,  unfriended,  melancholy,  slow,” 
declares  how  his  heart  untravelled 

“ Still  to  my  brother  turns,  with  ceaseless  pain, 

And  drags  at  each  remove  a lengthening  chain.” 

The  very  first  line  of  the  poem  strikes  a key-note — 
there  is  in  it  a pathetic  thrill  of  distance,  and  regret,  and 
longing ; and  it  has  the  soft  musical  sound  that  pervades 
the  whole  composition.  It  is  exceedingly  interesting  to 




note,  as  lias  already  been  mentioned,  how  Goldsmith 
altered  and  altered  these  lines  until  he  had  got  them 
full  of  gentle  vowel  sounds.  Where,  indeed,  in  the 
English  language  could  one  find  more  graceful  melody 
than  this  ? — - 

“ The  naked  negro,  panting  at  the  line, 

Boasts  of  his  golden  sands  and  palmy  wine, 

Basks  in  the  glare,  or  stems  the  tepid  wave, 

And  thanks  his  gods  for  all  the  good  they  gave.” 

It  has  been  observed  also  that  Goldsmith  was  the  first 
to  introduce  into  English  poetry  sonorous  American 
— or  rather  Indian — names,  as  when  he  writes  in  this 

“ Where  wild  Oswego  spreads  her  swamps  around, 

And  Niagara  stuns  with  thundering  sound,” 

—and  if  it  be  charged  against  him  that  he  ought  to 
have  known  the  proper  accentuation  of  Niagara,  it  may 
be  mentioned  as  a set-off  that  Sir  Walter  Scott,  in 
dealing  with  his  own  country,  mis-accentuated  “ Glena- 
ladale,”  to  say  nothing  of  his  having  made  of  Roseneath 
an  island.  Another  characteristic  of  the  Traveller  is 
the  extraordinary  choiceness  and  conciseness  of  the 
diction,  which,  instead  of  suggesting  pedantry  or  affec- 
tation, betrays  on  the  contrary  nothing  but  a delightful 
ease  and  grace. 

The  English  people  are  very  fond  of  good  English  ; 
and  thus  it  is  that  couplets  from  the  Traveller  and  the 
Deserted  Village  have  come  into  the  common  stock  of 
our  language,  and  that  sometimes  not  so  much  on 
account  of  the  ideas  they  convey,  as  through  their 




singular  precision  of  epithet  and  musical  sound.  It  is 
enough  to  make  the  angels  weep,  to  find  such  a couplet 
as  this — 

“ Cheerful  at  morn,  he  wakes  from  short  repose, 
Breasts  the  keen  air,  and  carols  as  he  goes,” 

murdered  in  several  editions  of  Goldsmith’s  works  by 
the  substitution  of  the  commonplace  “ breathes  ” for 
“ breasts  ” — and  that,  after  Johnson  had  drawn  particular 
attention  to  the  line  by  quoting  it  in  his  Dictionary. 
Perhaps,  indeed,  it  may  be  admitted  that  the  literary 
charm  of  the  Traveller  is  more  apparent  than  the  value 
of  any  doctrine,  however  profound  or  ingenious,  which 
the  poem  was  supposed  to  inculcate.  We  forget  all  about 
the  “ particular  principle  of  happiness  possessed  by 
each  European  state,  in  listening  to  the  melody  of  the 
singer,  and  in  watching  the  successive  and  delightful 
pictures  that  he  calls  up  before  the  imagination. 

“ As  in  those  domes  where  Csesars  once  bore  sway, 
Defaced  by  time,  and  tottering  in  decay, 

There  in  the  ruin,  heedless  of  the  dead, 

The  shelter-seeking  peasant  builds  his  shed  ; 

And,  wondering  man  could  want  the  larger  pile, 

Exults,  and  owns  his  cottage  with  a smile.” 

Then  notice  the  blaze  of  patriotic  idealism  that  bursts 
forth  when  he  comes  to  talk  of  England.  What  sort  of 
England  had  he  been  familiar  with  when  he  was  con- 
sorting with  the  meanest  wretches — the  poverty  stricken, 
the  sick,  and  squalid — in  those  Fleet-Street  dens  % But 
it  is  an  England  of  bright  streams  and  spacious  lawns 




of  which  he  writes;  and  as  for  the  people  who  inhabit 
the  favoured  land — 

“ Stern  o’er  each  bosom  reason  holds  her  state, 

With  daring  aims  irregularly  great ; 

Pride  in  their  port,  defiance  in  their  eye, 

I see  the  lords  of  human  kind  pass  by.” 

“Whenever  I write  anything,”  Goldsmith  had  said, 
with  a humorous  exaggeration  which  Boswell,  as  usual, 
takes  au  serieux , “ the  public  make  a point  to  know 
nothing  about  it.”  But  we  have  Johnson’s  testimony 
to  the  fact  that  the  Traveller  “ brought  him  into  high 
reputation.”  No  wonder.  When  the  great  Cham  de- 
clares it  to  be  the  finest  poem  published  since  the  time 
of  Pope,  we  are  irresistibly  forced  to  think  of  the 
Essay  on  Man.  What  a contrast  there  is  between  that 
tedious  and  stilted  effort,  and  this  clear  burst  of  bird- 
song ! The  Traveller , however,  did  not  immediately 
become  popular.  It  was  largely  talked  about,  naturally, 
among  Goldsmith’s  friends  ; and  Johnson  would  scarcely 
suffer  any  criticism  of  it.  At  a dinner  given  long  after- 
wards at  Sir  Joshua  Reynolds’s,  and  fully  reported  by  the 
invaluable  Boswell,  Reynolds  remarked,  “I  was  glad 
to  hear  Charles  Fox  say  it  was  one  of  the  finest  poems 
in  the  English  language.”  “Why  were  you  glad?” 
said  Langton.  “You  surely  had  no  doubt  of  this 
before?”  Hereupon  Johnson  struck  in:  “No;  the 
merit  of  the  Traveller  is  so  well  established,  that 
Mr.  Fox’s  praise  cannot  augment  it,  nor  his  censure 
diminish  it.”  And  he  went  on  to  say — Goldsmith 
having  died  and  got  beyond  the  reach  of  all  critics  and 
creditors  some  three  or  four  years  before  this  time — 




“Goldsmith  was  a man  who,  whatever  he  wrote,  did  it 
better  than  any  other  man  could  do.  He  deserved 
a place  in  Westminster  Abbey ; and  every  year  he 
lived  would  have  deserved  it  better.” 

Presently  people  began  to  talk  about  the  new  poem.  A 
second  edition  was  issued  ; a third ; a fourth.  It  is  not 
probable  that  Goldsmith  gained  any  pecuniary  benefit 
from  the  growing  popularity  of  the  little  book ; but  he 
had  “ struck  for  honest  fame,”  and  that  was  now  coming 
to  him.  He  even  made  some  slight  acquaintance  with 
“the  great ; ” and  here  occurs  an  incident  which  is  one 
of  many  that  account  for  the  love  that  the  English  people 
have  for  Goldsmith.  It  appears  that  Hawkins,  calling 
one  day  on  the  Earl  of  Northumberland,  found  the 
author  of  the  Traveller  waiting  in  the  outer  room,  in 
response  to  an  invitation.  Hawkins,  having  finished 
his  own  business,  retired,  but  lingered  about  until  the 
interview  between  Goldsmith  and  his  lordship  was  over, 
having  some  curiosity  about  the  result.  Here  follows 
Goldsmith’s  report  to  Hawkins.  “ His  lordship  told 
me  he  had  read  my  poem,  and  was  much  delighted  with 
it ; that  he  was  going  to  be  Lord-lieutenant  of  Ireland  ; 
and  that,  hearing  that  I was  a native  of  that  country, 
he  should  be  glad  to  do  me  any  kindness.”  “What  did 
you  answer'?”  says  Hawkins,  no  doubt  expecting  to 
hear  of  some  application  for  pension  or  post.  “Why,” 
said  Goldsmith,  “ I could  say  nothing  but  that  I had  a 
brother  there,  a clergyman,  that  stood  in  need  of  help,” 
— and  then  he  explained  to  Hawkins  that  he  looked  to 
the  booksellers  for  support,  and  was  not  inclined  to 
place  dependence  on  the  promises  of  great  men.  “ Thus 
did  this  idiot  in  the  affairs  of  the  world,”  adds  Hawkins, 




with  a fatuity  that  is  quite  remarkable  in  its  way,  “ trifle 
with  his  fortunes,  and  put  back  the  hand  that  was  held 
out  to  assist  him  ! Other  offers  of  a like  kind  he  either 
rejected  or  failed  to  improve,  contenting  himself  with 
the  patronage  of  one  nobleman,  whose  mansion  afforded 
him  the  delights  of  a splendid  table  and  a retreat  for 
a few  days  from  the  metropolis.”  It  is  a great  pity  we 
have  not  a description  from  the  same  pen  of  Johnson’s 
insolent  ingratitude  in  flinging  the  pair  of  boots  dowrn 



But  one  pecuniary  result  of  this  growing  fame  was  a 
joint  offer  on  the  part  of  Griffin  and  Xewbery  of  £20 
for  a selection  from  his  printed  essays  ; and  this  selec- 
tion was  forthwith  made  and  published,  with  a preface 
written  for  the  occasion.  Here  at  once  we  can  see  that 
Goldsmith  takes  firmer  ground.  There  is  an  air  of 
confidence — of  gaiety,  even — in  his  address  to  the 
public ; although,  as  usual,  accompanied  by  a whimsical 
mock-modesty  that  is  extremely  odd  and  effective. 
“ Whatever  right  I have  to  complain  of  the  public,”  he 
says,  “ they  can,  as  yet,  have  no  just  reason  to  complain 
of  me.  If  I have  written  dull  Essays,  they  have 
hitherto  treated  them  as  dull  Essays.  Thus  far  we  are 
at  least  upon  par,  and  until  they  think  fit  to  make  me 
their  humble  debtor  by  praise,  I am  resolved  not  to  lose 
a single  inch  of  my  self-importance.  Instead,  there- 
fore, of  attempting  to  establish  a credit  amongst  them, 
it  will  perhaps  be  wiser  to  apply  to  some  more  distant 
correspondent  ; and  as  my  drafts  are  in  some  danger  of 
being  protested  at  home,  it  may  not  be  imprudent,  upon 
this  occasion,  to  draw  my  bills  upon  Posterity. 

CH.  X.] 



“ Mr.  Posterity, 

“ Sir, — Nine  hundred  and  ninety-nine  years  after  sight 
hereof  pay  the  bearer,  or  order,  a thousand  pounds  worth 
of  praise,  free  from  all  deductions  whatsoever,  it  being 
a commodity  that  will  then  be  very  serviceable  to  him, 
and  place  it  to  the  account  of,  &c.” 

The  bill  is  not  yet  due  ; but  there  can  in  the  meantime 
be  no  harm  in  discounting  it  so  far  as  to  say  that  these 
Essays  deserve  very  decided  praise.  They  deal  with  all 
manner  of  topics,  matters  of  fact,  matters  of  imagination, 
humorous  descriptions,  learned  criticisms ; and  then, 
whenever  the  entertainer  thinks  he  is  becoming  dull,  he 
suddenly  tells  a quaint  little  story  and  walks  off  amidst 
the  laughter  he  knows  he  has  produced.  It  is  not  a very 
ambitious  or  sonorous  sort  of  literature ; but  it  was 
admirably  fitted  for  its  aim — the  passing  of  the 
immediate  hour  in  an  agreeable  and  fairly  intellectual 
way.  One  can  often  see,  no  doubt,  that  these  Essays 
are  occasionally  written  in  a more  or  less  perfunctory 
fashion,  the  writer  not  being  moved  by  much  enthu- 
siasm in  his  subject ; but  even  then  a quaint  literary 
grace  seldom  fails  to  atone,  as  when,  writing  about  the 
English  clergy,  and  complaining  that  they  do  not 
sufficiently  in  their  addresses  stoop  to  mean  capacities, 
he  says — “ Whatever  may  become  of  the  higher  orders 
of  mankind,  who  are  generally  possessed  of  collateral 
motives  to  virtue,  the  vulgar  should  be  particularly 
regarded,  whose  behaviour  in  civil  life  is  totally  hinged 
upon  their  hopes  and  fears.  Those  who  constitute  the 
basis  of  the  great  fabric  of  society  should  be  particularly 
regarded ; for  in  policy,  as  in  architecture,  ruin  is  most 
fatal  when  it  begins  from  the  bottom/7  There  was. 

G 2 




indeed,  throughout  Goldsmith’s  miscellaneous  writing 
much  more  common  sense  than  might  have  been  expected 
from  a writer  who  was  supposed  to  have  none. 

As  regards  his  chance  criticisms  on  dramatic  and 
poetical  literature,  these  are  generally  found  to  be  inci- 
sive and  just ; while  sometimes  they  exhibit  a wholesome 
disregard  of  mere  tradition  and  authority.  “ Milton’s 
translation  of  Horace’s  Ode  to  Pyrrha,”  he  says,  for 
example,  u is  universally  known  and  generally  admired, 
in  our  opinion  much  above  its  merit.”  If  the  present 
writer  might  for  a moment  venture  into  such  an  arena, 
he  would  express  the  honest  belief  that  that  translation 
is  the  very  worst  translation  that  was  ever  made  of 
anything.  But  there  is  the  happy  rendering  of  simplex 
munditiis , which  counts  for  much. 

By  this  time  Goldsmith  had  also  written  his  charm- 
ing ballad  of  Edwin  and  Angelina , which  was  privately 
“ printed  for  the  amusement  of  the  Countess  of  North- 
umberland,” and  which  afterwards  appeared  in  the 
Vicar  of  Wakefield . It  seems  clear  enough  that  this 
quaint  and  pathetic  piece  was  suggested  by  an  old  ballad 

u Gentle  heardsman,  tell  to  me, 

Of  curtesy  I thee  pray, 

Unto  the  towne  of  W alsingham 
Which  is  the  right  and  ready  way,” 

which  Percy  had  shown  to  Goldsmith,  and  which,  patched 
up,  subsequently  appeared  in  the  Reliques.  But  Gold- 
smith’s ballad  is  original  enough  to  put  aside  all  the 
discussion  about  plagiarism  which  was  afterwards  started. 




In  the  old  fragment  the  weeping  pilgrim  receives  direc- 
tions from  the  herdsman,  and  goes  on  her  way,  and  we 
hear  of  her  no  more  ; in  Edwin  and  Angelina  the 
forlorn  and  despairing  maiden  suddenly  finds  herself 
confronted  by  the  long-lost  lover  whom  she  had  so 
cruelly  used.  This  is  the  dramatic  touch  that  reveals 
the  hand  of  the  artist.  And  here  again  it  is  curious  to 
note  the  care  with  which  Goldsmith  repeatedly  revised 
his  writings.  The  ballad  originally  ended  with  these 
two  stanzas  : — 

“ Here  amidst  sylvan  bowers  we’ll  rove, 

From  lawn  to  woodland  stray  ; 

Blest  as  the  songsters  of  the  grove, 

And  innocent  as  they. 

u To  all  that  want,  and  all  that  wail, 

Our  pity  shall  be  given, 

And  when  this  life  of  love  shall  fail, 

We’ll  love  again  in  heaven.” 

But  subsequently  it  must  have  occurred  to  the  author 
that,  the  dramatic  disclosure  once  made,  and  the  lovers 
restored  to  each  other,  any  lingering  over  the  scene  only 
weakened  the  force  of  the  climax ; hence  these  stanzas 
were  judiciously  excised.  It  may  be  doubted,  however, 
whether  the  original  version  of  the  last  couplet  : 

“ And  the  last  sigh  that  rends  the  heart 
Shall  break  thy  Edwin’s  too,” 

was  improved  by  being  altered  into 

“ The  sigh  that  rends  thy  constant  heart 
Shall  break  thy  Edwin’s  too.” 

86  GOLDSMITH.  [ch.  x. 

Meanwhile  Goldsmith  had  resorted  to  hack-work 
again ; nothing  being  expected  from  the  Vicar  of  Wake- 
field, now  lying  in  Newbery’s  shop,  for  that  had  been 
paid  for,  and  his  expenses  were  increasing,  as  became 
his  greater  station.  In  the  interval  between  the 
publication  of  the  Traveller  and  of  the  Vicar , he  moved 
into  better  chambers  in  Garden  Court ; he  hired  a man- 
servant, he  blossomed  out  into  very  fine  clothes.  In- 
deed, so  effective  did  his  first  suit  seem  to  be — the 
purple  silk  small-clothes,  the  scarlet  roquelaure,  the 
wig,  sword,  and  gold-headed  cane — that,  as  Mr.  Forster 
says,  he  “ amazed  his  friends  with  no  less  than  three 
similar  suits,  not  less  expensive,  in  the  next  six  months/' 
Part  of  this  display  was  no  doubt  owing  to  a suggestion 
from  Reynolds  that  Goldsmith,  having  a medical  degree, 
might  just  as  well  add  the  practice  of  a physician  to 
his  literary  work,  to  magnify  his  social  position.  Gold- 
smith, always  willing  to  please  his  friends,  acceded  ; 
but  his  practice  does  not  appear  to  have  been  either 
extensive  or  long- continued.  It  is  said  that  he  drew 
out  a prescription  for  a certain  Mrs.  Sidebotham  which 
so  appalled  the  apothecary  that  he  refused  to  make  it 
up ; and  that,  as  the  lady  sided  with  the  apothecary,  he 
threw  up  the  case  and  his  profession  at  the  same  time.  If 
it  was  money  Goldsmith  wanted,  he  was  not  likely  to  get 
it  in  that  way  ; he  had  neither  the  appearance  nor  the 
manner  fitted  to  humour  the  sick  and  transform  healthy 
people  into  valetudinarians.  If  it  was  the  esteem  of  his 
friends  and  popularity  outside  that  circle,  he  was  soon 
to  acquire  enough  of  both.  On  the  27th  March,  1766, 
fifteen  months  after  the  appearance  of  the  Traveller , 
the  Vicar  of  Wakefield  was  published. 



The  Vicar  of  Wakefield , considered  structurally,  follows 
the  lines  of  the  Book  of  Job,  You  take  a good  man, 
overwhelm  him  with  successive  misfortunes,  show  the 
pure  flame  of  his  soul  burning  in  the  midst  of  the 
darkness,  and  then,  as  the  reward  of  his  patience  and 
fortitude  and  submission,  restore  him  gradually  to 
happiness,  with  even  larger  flocks  and  herds  than 
before.  The  machinery  by  which  all  this  is  brought 
about  is,  in  the  Vicar  of  Wakefield , the  weak  part  of  the 
story.  The  plot  is  full  of  wild  improbabilities ; in  fact, 
the  expedients  by  which  all  the  members  of  the  family 
are  brought  together  and  made  happy  at  the  same  time, 
are  nothing  short  of  desperate.  It  is  quite  clear,  too, 
that  the  author  does  not  know  what  to  make  of  the 
episode  of  Olivia  and  her  husband ; they  are  allowed  to 
drop  through ; we  leave  him  playing  the  French  horn 
at  a relation’s  house ; while  she,  in  her  father’s  home,  is 
supposed  to  be  unnoticed,  so  much  are  they  all  taken  up 
with  the  rejoicings  over  the  double  wedding.  It  is  very 
probable  that  when  Goldsmith  began  the  story  he  had 
no  very  definite  plot  concocted  ; and  that  it  was  only 




when  the  much-persecuted  Vicar  had  to  be  restored  to 
happiness,  that  he  found  the  entanglements  surrounding 
him,  and  had  to  make  frantic  efforts  to  break  through 
them.  But,  be  that  as  it  may,  it  is  not  for  the  plot 
that  people  now  read  the  Vicar  of  Wakefield ; it  is  not 
the  intricacies  of  the  story  that  have  made  it  the 
delight  of  the  world.  Surely  human  nature  must  be 
very  much  the  same  when  this  simple  description  of  n 
quiet  English  home  went  straight  to  the  heart  of  nations 
in  both  hemispheres. 

And  the  wonder  is  that  Goldsmith  of  all  men  should 
have  produced  such  a perfect  picture  of  domestic  life. 
What  had  his  own  life  been  but  a moving  about 
between  garret  and  tavern,  between  bachelor’s  lodgings 
and  clubs  *1  Where  had  he  seen — unless,  indeed,  he 
looked  back  through  the  mist  of  years  to  the  scenes 
of  his  childhood — all  this  gentle  government,  and 
wise  blindness ; all  this  affection,  and  consideration, 
and  respect  % There  is  as  much  human  nature  in 
the  character  of  the  Vicar  alone  as  would  have  fur- 
nished any  fifty  of  the  novels  of  that  day,  or  of  this. 
Who  has  not  been  charmed  by  his  sly  and  quaint 
humour,  by  his  moral  dignity  and  simple  vanities,  even 
by  the  little  secrets  he  reveals  to  us  of  his  paternal 
rule.  “ ‘ Ay/  returned  I,  not  knowing  well  what  to 
think  of  the  matter,  ‘ heaven  grant  they  may  be  both 
the  better  for  it  this  day  three  months  ! ’ This  was  one 
of  those  observations  I usually  made  to  impress  my 
wife  with  an  opinion  of  my  sagacity  ; for  if  the  girls 
succeeded,  then  it  was  a pious  wish  fulfilled  ; but  if 
anything  unfortunate  ensued,  then  it  might  be  looked 
on  as  a prophecy.”  We  know  how  Miss  Olivia  was 




answered,  when,  at  her  mother’s  prompting,  she  set  up 
for  being  well  skilled  in  controversy  : — 

“ ‘ Why,  my  dear,  what  controversy  can  she  have 
read  1 ’ cried  I.  ‘ It  does  not  occur  to  me  that  I ever 
put  such  books  into  her  hands  : you  certainly  overrate 
her  merit.’ — ‘Indeed,  papa,’  replied  Olivia,  ‘she  does 
not ; I have  read  a great  deal  of  controversy.  I have 
read  the  disputes  between  Thwackum  and  Square ; the 
controversy  between  Robinson  Crusoe  and  Friday,  the 
savage ; and  I am  now  employed  in  reading  the  con- 
troversy in  Religious  Courtship.’ — ‘ Very  well,’  cried 
I,  ‘ that’s  a good  girl ; I find  you  are  perfectly  qualified 
for  making  converts,  and  so  go  help  your  mother  to 
make  the  gooseberry  pie.’  ” 

It  is  with  a great  gentleness  that  the  good  man 
reminds  his  wife  and  daughters  that,  after  their  sudden 
loss  of  fortune,  it  does  not  become  them  to  wear  much 
finery.  “The  first  Sunday,  in  particular,  their  behaviour 
served  to  mortify  me.  I had  desired  my  girls  the  pre- 
ceding night  to  be  dressed  early  the  next  day;  for  I 
always  loved  to  be  at  church  a good  while  before  the 
rest  of  the  congregation.  They  punctually  obeyed  my 
directions ; but  when  we  were  to  assemble  in  the 
morning  at  breakfast,  down  came  my  wife  and  daughters, 
dressed  out  in  all  their  former  splendour ; their  hair 
plastered  up  with  pomatum,  their  faces  patched  to  taste, 
their  trains  bundled  up  in  a heap  behind,  and  rustling 
at  every  motion.  I could  not  help  smiling  at  their 
vanity,  particularly  that  of  my  wife,  from  whom  I 
expected  more  discretion.  In  this  exigence,  therefore, 
my  only  resource  was  to  order  my  son,  with  an  im- 
portant air,  to  call  our  coach.  The  girls  were  amazed 




at  the  command ; but  I repeated  it  with  more  solemnity 
than  before.  ‘ Surely,  my  dear,  you  jest/  cried  my 
wife ; ‘ we  can  walk  it  perfectly  well  : we  want  no 
coach  to  carry  us  now/ — ‘ You  mistake,  child/  returned 
I,  6 we  do  want  a coach  ; for  if  we  walk  to  church  in 
this  trim,  the  very  children  in  the  parish  will  hoot  after 
us/ — ‘ Indeed/  replied  my  wife,  6 1 always  imagined 
that  my  Charles  was  fond  of  seeing  his  children  neat 
and  handsome  about  him.’ — ‘ You  may  be  as  neat  as 
you  please/  interrupted  I,  ‘and  I shall  love  you  the 
better  for  it ; but  all  this  is  not  neatness,  but  frippery. 
These  rufflings,  and  pinkings,  and  patchings  will  only 
make  us  hated  by  all  the  wives  of  our  neighbours.  No, 
my  children/  continued  I,  more  gravely,  ‘ those  gowns 
may  be  altered  into  something  of  a plainer  cut ; for  finery 
is  very  unbecoming  in  us,  who  want  the  means  of 
decency.  I do  not  know  whether  such  flouncing  and 
shredding  is  becoming  even  in  the  rich,  if  we  consider, 
upon  a moderate  calculation,  that  the  nakedness  of  the 
indigent  world  might  be  clothed  from  the  trimmings  of 
the  vain/ 

‘ ‘ This  remonstrance  had  the  proper  effect : they  went 
with  great  composure,  that  very  instant,  to  change  their 
dress ; and  the  next  day  I had  the  satisfaction  of  finding 
my  daughters,  at  their  own  request,  employed  in  cutting 
up  their  trains  into  Sunday  waistcoats  for  Dick  and 
Bill,  the  two  little  ones ; and,  what  was  still  more 
satisfactory,  the  gowns  seemed  improved  by  this  cur- 
tailing/’ And  again  when  he  discovered  the  two  girls 
making  a wash  for  their  faces  : — “ My  daughters  seemed 
equally  busy  with  the  rest ; and  I observed  them  for  a 
good  while  cooking  something  over  the  fire.  I at  first 

xi-  J 



supposed  they  were  assisting  their  mother,  but  little 
Dick  informed  me,  in  a whisper,  that  they  were  making 
a wash  for  the  face.  Washes  of  all  kinds  I had  a 
natural  antipathy  to ; for  I knew  that,  instead  of 
mending  the  complexion,  they  spoil  it.  I therefore 
approached  my  chair  by  sly  degrees  to  the  fire,  and 
grasping  the  poker,  as  if  it  wanted  mending,  seemingly 
by  accident  overturned  the  whole  composition,  and  it 
was  too  late  to  begin  another.” 

All  this  is  done  with  such  a light,  homely  touch, 
that  one  gets  familiarly  to  know  these  people  without 
being  aware  of  it.  There  is  no  insistance.  There  is  no 
dragging  you  along  by  the  collar  ; confronting  you  with 
certain  figures ; and  compelling  you  to  look  at  this  and 
study  that.  The  artist  stands  by  you,  and  laughs  in 
his  quiet  way  ; and  you  are  laughing  too,  when  suddenly 
you  find  that  human  beings  have  silently  come  into  the 
void  before  you  ; and  you  know  them  for  friends  ; and 
even  after  the  vision  has  faded  away,  and  the  beautiful 
light  and  colour  and  glory  of  romance-land  have 
vanished,  you  cannot  forget  them.  They  have  become 
part  of  your  life ; you  will  take  them  to  the  grave 
with  you. 

The  story,  as  every  one  perceives,  has  its  obvious 
blemishes.  “ There  are  an  hundred  faults  in  this  Thing,” 
says  Goldsmith  himself,  in  the  prefixed  Advertisement. 
But  more  particularly,  in  the  midst  of  all  the  impossi- 
bilities taking  place  in  and  around  the  jail,  when  that 
chameleon-like  deus  ex  macliind , Mr.  Jenkinscn,  winds 
up  the  tale  in  hot  haste,  Goldsmith  pauses  to  put  in  a 
sort  of  apology.  “ Nor  can  I go  on  without  a reflection,’ 7 
he  says  gravely,  “ on  those  accidental  meetings,  which, 




though  they  happen  every  day,  seldom  excite  our 
surprise  but  upon  some  extraordinary  occasion.  To 
what  a fortuitous  concurrence  do  we  not  owe  every 
pleasure  and  convenience  of  our  lives  ! How  many 
seeming  accidents  must  unite  before  we  can  be  clothed 
or  fed  ! The  peasant  must  be  disposed  to  labour,  the 
shower  must  fall,  the  wind  fill  the  merchant’s  sail,  or 
numbers  must  want  the  usual  supply.”  This  is  Mr. 
Thackeray’s  “ simple  rogue”  appearing  again  in  adult 
life.  Certainly,  if  our  supply  of  food  and  clothing 
depended  on  such  accidents  as  happened  to  make  the 
Vicar’s  family  happy  all  at  once,  there  would  be  a good 
deal  of  shivering  and  starvation  in  the  world.  More- 
over it  may  be  admitted  that  on  occasion  Goldsmith’s 
fine  instinct  deserts  him  ; and  even  in  describing  those 
domestic  relations  which  are  the  charm  of  the  novel,  he 
blunders  into  the  unnatural.  When  Mr.  Burchell,  for 
example,  leaves  the  house  in  consequence  of  a quarrel 
with  Mrs.  Primrose,  the  Vicar  questions  his  daughter  as 
to  whether  she  had  received  from  that  poor  gentleman 
any  testimony  of  his  affection  for  her.  She  replies  No  ; 
but  remembers  to  have  heard  him  remark  that  he  never 
knew  a woman  who  could  find  merit  in  a man  that  was 
poor.  “ Such,  my  dear,”  continued  the  Vicar,  “ is  the 
common  cant  of  all  the  unfortunate  or  idle.  But  I 
hope  you  have  been  taught  to  judge  properly  of  such 
men,  and  that  it  would  be  even  madness  to  expect 
happiness  from  one  who  has  been  so  very  bad  an 
economist  of  his  own.  Your  mother  and  I have  now 
better  prospects  for  you.  The  next  winter,  which  you 
will  probably  spend  in  town,  will  give  you  opportunities 
of  making  a more  prudent  choice.”  Now  it  is  not  at 




all  likely  that  a father,  however  anxious  to  have  his 
daughter  well  married  and  settled,  would  ask  her  so 
delicate  a question  in  op?n  domestic  circle,  and  would 
then  publicly  inform  her  that  she  was  expected  to  choose 
a husband  on  her  forthcoming  visit  to  town. 

Whatever  may  be  said  about  any  particular  incident 
like  this,  the  atmosphere  of  the  book  is  true.  Goethe,  to 
whom  a German  translation  of  the  Vicar  was  read  by 
Herder  some  four  years  after  the  publication  in  England, 
not  only  declared  it  at  the  time  to  be  one  of  the  best 
novels  ever  written,  but  again  and  again  throughout  his 
life  reverted  to  the  charm  and  delight  with  which  he 
had  made  the  acquaintance  of  the  English  “ prose-idyll,” 
and  took  it  for  granted  that  it  was  a real  picture  of 
English  life.  Despite  all  the  machinery  of  Mr.  Jenkin- 
son’s  schemes,  who  could  doubt  it  % Again  and  again 
there  are  recurrent  strokes  of  such  vividness  and  natural- 
ness that  we  yield  altogether  to  the  necromancer.  Look 
at  this  perfect  picture— of  human  emotion  and  outside 
nature  — put  in  in  a few  sentences.  The  old  clergyman, 
after  being  in  search  of  his  daughter,  has  found  her, 
and  is  now — having  left  her  in  an  inn — returning  to  his 
family  and  his  home.  “ And  now  my  heart  caught  new 
sensations  of  pleasure,  the  nearer  I approached  that 
peaceful  mansion.  As  a bird  that  had  been  frighted 
from  its  nest,  my  affections  outwent  my  haste,  and 
hovered  round  my  little  fireside  with  all  the  rapture  of 
expectation.  I called  up  the  many  fond  things  I had  to 
say,  and  anticipated  the  welcome  I was  to  receive.  I 
already  felt  my  wife’s  tender  embrace,  and  smiled  at 
the  joy  of  my  little  ones.  As  I walked  but  slowly,  the 
night  waned  apace.  The  labourers  of  the  day  were  all 




retired  to  rest ; the  lights  were  out  in  every  cottage ; no 
sounds  were  heard  but  of  the  shrilling  cock,  and  the 
deep-mouthed  watch  dog  at  hollow  distance.  I ap- 
proached my  little  abode  of  pleasure,  and,  before  I was 
within  a furlong  of  the  place,  our  honest  mastiff  came 
running  to  welcome  me.”  “ The  deep-mouthed  watch-dog 
at  hollow  distance  ; ” — what  more  perfect  description  of 
the  stillness  of  night  was  ever  given  ] 

And  then  there  are  other  qualities  in  this  delightful 
Vicar  of  Wakefield  than  merely  idyllic  tenderness,  and 
pathos,  and  sly  humour.  There  is  a firm  presentation  of 
the  crimes  and  brutalities  of  the  world.  The  pure  light 
that  shines  within  that  domestic  circle  is  all  the  brighter 
because  of  the  black  outer  ring  that  is  here  and  there 
indicated  rather  than  described.  How  could  we  ap- 
preciate all  the  simplicities  of  the  good  man’s  household, 
but  for  the  rogueries  with  which  they  are  brought  in 
contact  1 And  although  we  laugh  at  Moses  and  his  gross 
of  green  spectacles,  and  the  manner  in  which  the  Vicar’s 
wife  and  daughter  are  imposed  on  by  Miss  Wilhelmina 
Skeggs  and  Lady  Blarney,  with  their  lords  and  ladies 
and  their  tributes  to  virtue,  there  is  no  laughter  de- 
manded of  us  when  we  find  the  simplicity  and  moral 
dignity  >of  the  Vicar  meeting  and  beating  the  jeers  and 
taunts  of  the  abandoned  wretches  in  the  prison.  This 
is  really  a remarkable  episode.  The  author  was  under 
the  obvious  temptation  to  make  much  comic  material 
out  of  the  situation  ; while  another  temptation,  towards 
the  goody-goody  side,  was  not  far  off.  But  the  Vicar 
undertakes  the  duty  of  reclaiming  these  castaways 
with  a modest  patience  and  earnestness  in  every  way  in 
keeping  with  his  character  ; while  they,  on  the  other 





hand,  are  not  too  easily  moved  to  tears  of  repentance. 
His  first  efforts,  it  will  be  remembered,  were  not  too 
successful.  “ Their  insensibility  excited  my  highest  com- 
passion, and  blotted  my  own  uneasiness  from  my  mind. 
It  even  appeared  a duty  incumbent  upon  me  to  attempt 
to  reclaim  them.  I resolved,  therefore,  once  more  to 
return,  and,  in  spite  of  their  contempt,  to  give  them  my 
advice,  and  conquer  them  by  my  perseverance.  Going, 
therefore,  among  them  again,  I informed  Mr.  Jenkinson 
of  my  design,  at  which  he  laughed  heartily,  but  com- 
municated it  to  the  rest.  The  proposal  was  received 
with  the  greatest  good  humour,  as  it  promised  to  afford 
a new  fund  of  entertainment  to  persons  who  had  now 
no  other  resource  for  mirth  but  what  could  be  derived 
from  ridicule  or  debauchery. 

“ I therefore  read  them  a portion  of  the  service  with  a 
loud,  unaffected  voice,  and  found  my  audience  perfectly 
merry  upon  the  occasion.  Lewd  whispers,  groans  of 
contrition  burlesqued,  winking  and  coughing,  alternately 
excited  laughter.  However,  I continued  with  my  natural 
solemnity  to  read  on,  sensible  that  what  I did  might 
mend  some,  but  could  itself  receive  no  contamination 
from  any. 

“ After  reading,  I entered  upon  my  exhortation,  which 
was  rather  calculated  at  first  to  amuse  them  than  to  re- 
prove. I previously  observed,  that  no  other  motive  but 
their  welfare  could  induce  me  to  this  ; that  I was  their 
fellow-prisoner,  and  now  got  nothing  by  preaching.  I 
was  sorry,  I said,  to  hear  them  so  very  profane  ; because 
they  got  nothing  by  it,  but  might  lose  a great  deal  : 
‘For  be  assured,  my  friends,’  cried  I, — ‘for you  are  my 
friends,  however  the  world  may  disclaim  your  friendship, 




— though  you  swore  twelve  thousand  oaths  in  a day,  it 
would  not  put  one  penny  in  your  purse.  Then  what 
signifies  calling  every  moment  upon  the  devil,  and  court- 
ing his  friendship,  since  you  find  how  scurvily  he  uses 
you  ? He  has  given  you  nothing  here,  you  find,  but  a 
mouthful  of  oaths  and  an  empty  belly  ; and,  by  the  best 
accounts  I have  of  him,  he  will  give  you  nothing  that’s 
good  hereafter. 

“ 6 If  used  ill  in  our  dealings  with  one  man,  we  naturally 
go  elsewhere.  Were  it  not  worth  your  while,  then,  just 
to  try  how  you  may  like  the  usage  of  another  master, 
who  gives  you  fair  promises  at  least  to  come  to  him  ‘l 
Surely,  my  friends,  of  all  stupidity  in  the  world,  his 
must  be  the  greatest,  who,  after  robbing  a house,  runs 
to  the  thief-takers  for  protection.  And  yet,  how  are  you 
more  wise  1 You  are  all  seeking  comfort  from  one  that 
has  already  betrayed  you,  applying  to  a more  malicious 
being  than  any  thief-taker  of  them  all ; for  they  only 
decoy  and  then  hang  you  ; but  he  decoys  and  hangs,  and, 
what  is  worst  of  all,  will  not  let  you  loose  after  the 
hangman  has  done/ 

“ When  I had  concluded,  I received  the  compliments  of 
my  audience,  some  of  whom  came  and  shook  me  by  the 
hand,  swearing  that  I was  a very  honest  fellow,  and  that 
they  desired  my  further  acquaintance.  I therefore  pro- 
mised to  repeat  my  lecture  next  day,  and  actually  con- 
ceived some  hopes  of  making  a reformation  here ; for  it 
had  ever  been  my  opinion,  that  no  man  was  past  the 
hour  of  amendment,  every  heart  lying  open  to  the  shafts 
of  reproof,  if  the  archer  could  but  take  a proper  aim.” 

His  wife  and  children,  naturally  dissuading  him  from 
an  effort  which  seemed  to  them  only  to  bring  ridicule 




upon  him,  are  met  by  a grave  rebuke ; and  on  the  next 
morning  he  descends  to  the  common  prison,  where,  he 
says,  he  found  the  prisoners  very  merry,  expecting  his 
arrival,  and  each  prepared  to  play  some  gaol-trick  on 
the  Doctor. 

“ There  was  one  whose  trick  gave  more  universal 
pleasure  than  all  the  rest ; for,  observing  the  manner  in 
which  I had  disposed  my  books  on  the  table  before  me, 
he  very  dexterously  displaced  one  of  them,  and  put  an 
obscene  jest-book  of  his  own  in  the  place.  However,  I 
took  no  notice  of  all  that  this  mischievous  group  of  little 
beings  could  do,  but  went  on,  perfectly  sensible  that  what 
was  ridiculous  in  my  attempt  would  excite  mirth  only 
the  first  or  second  time,  while  what  was  serious  would 
be  permanent.  My  design  succeeded,  and  in  less  than 
six  days  some  were  penitent,  and  all  attentive. 

“ It  was  now  that  I applauded  my  perseverance  and 
address,  at  thus  giving  sensibility  to  wretches  divested 
of  every  moral  feeling,  and  now  began  to  think  of  doing 
them  temporal  services  also,  by  rendering  their  situation 
somewhat  more  comfortable.  Their  time  had  hitherto 
been  divided  between  famine  and  excess,  tumultuous  riot 
and  bitter  repining.  Their  only  employment  was  quar- 
relling among  each  other,  playing  at  cribbage,  and 
cutting  tobacco-stoppers.  From  this  last  mode  of  idle 
industry  I took  the  hint  of  setting  such  as  choose  to 
work  at  cutting  pegs  for  tobacconists  and  shoemakers, 
the  proper  wood  being  bought  by  a general  subscription, 
and,  when  manufactured,  sold  by  my  appointment ; so 
that  each  earned  something  every  day — a trifle  indeed, 
but  sufficient  to  maintain  him. 

“ I did  not  stop  here,  but  instituted  fines  for  the  punish- 





ment  of  immorality,  and  rewards  for  peculiar  industry. 
Thus,  in  less  than  a fortnight  I had  formed  them  into 
something  social  and  humane,  and  had  the  pleasure  of 
regarding  myself  as  a legislator  who  had  brought  men 
from  their  native  ferocity  into  friendship  and  obedience.” 
Of  course,  all  this  about  gaols  and  thieves  was  calcu- 
lated to  shock  the  nerves  of  those  who  liked  their 
literature  perfumed  with  rose-water.  Madame  Ricco- 
boni,  to  whom  Burke  had  sent  the  book,  wrote  to 
Garrick,  “ Le  plaidoyer  en  faveur  des  voleurs,  des 
petits  larrons,  des  gens  de  mauvaises  mceurs,  est  fort 
eloign  e de  me  plaire.”  Others,  no  doubt,  considered 
the  introduction  of  Miss  Skeggs  and  Lady  Blarney  as 
“ vastly  low.5’  But  the  curious  thing  is  that  the  literary 
critics  of  the  day  seem  to  have  been  altogether  silent 
about  the  book — perhaps  they  were  “ puzzled”  by  it, 
as  Southey  has  suggested.  Mr.  Forster,  who  took  the 
trouble  to  search  the  periodical  literature  of  the  time, 
says  that,  “ apart  from  bald  recitals  of  the  plot,  not  a 
word  was  said  in  the  way  of  criticism  about  the  book, 
either  in  praise  or  blame.”  The  St.  James's  Chronicle  did 
not  condescend  to  notice  its  appearance,  and  the  Monthly 
Review  confessed  frankly  that  nothing  was  to  be  made 
of  it.  The  better  sort  of  newspapers,  as  well  as  the 
more  dignified  reviews,  contemptuously  left  it  to  the 
patronage  of  Lloyd's  Evening  Post , the  London  Chronicle , 
and  journals  of  that  class ; which  simply  informed  their 
readers  that  a new  novel,  called  the  Vicar  of  Wake- 
field, had  been  published,  that  “the  editor  is  Doctor 
Goldsmith,  who  has  affixed  his  name  to  an  introductory 
Advertisement,  and  that  such  and  such  were  the  inci- 
dents of  the  story.”  Even  his  friends,  with  the  excep- 




tion  of  Burke,  did  not  seem  to  consider  that  any  re- 
markable new  birth  in  literature  had  occurred  • and  it 
is  probable  that  this  was  a still  greater  disappointment 
to  Goldsmith,  who  was  so  anxious  to  be  thought  well  of 
at  the  Club.  However,  the  public  took  to  the  story. 
A second  edition  was  published  in  May  ; a thii  d in 
August.  Goldsmith,  it  is  true,  received  no  pecuniary 
gain  from  this  success,  for,  as  we  have  seen,  Johnson 
had  sold  the  novel  outright  to  Francis  Newbery  ; but 
his  name  was  growing  in  importance  with  the  book- 

There  was  need  that  it  should,  for  his  increasing 
expenses — his  fine  clothes,  his  suppers,  his  whist  at 
the  Devil  Tavern — were  involving  him  in  deeper 
and  deeper  difficulties.  How  was  he  to  extricate  him- 
self ? — or  rather  the  question  that  would  naturally 
occur  to  Goldsmith  was  how  was  he  to  continue  that 
hand  to-mouth  existence  that  had  its  compensations 
along  with  its  troubles  2 Hovels  like  the  Vicar  of 
Wakefield  are  not  written  at  a moment’s  notice,  even 
though  any  Newbery,  judging  by  results,  is  willing  to 
double  that  £60  which  Johnson  considered  to  be  a fair 
price  for  the  story  at  the  time.  There  was  the  usual 
resource  of  hack- writing ; and,  no  doubt,  Goldsmith  was 
compelled  to  fall  back  on  that,  if  only  to  keep  the  elder 
Newbery,  in  whose  debt  he  was,  in  a good  humour.  But 
the  author  of  the  Vicar  of  Wakefield  may  be  excused  if 
he  looked  round  to  see  if  there  was  not  some  more 
profitable  work  for  him  to  turn  his  hand  to  It  was  at 
this  time  that  he  began  to  think  of  writing  a comedy. 



Amid  much  miscellaneous  work,  mostly  of  the  compila- 
tion order,  the  play  of  the  Good-natured  Man  began  to 
assume  concrete  form  • insomuch  that  Johnson,  always 
the  friend  of  this  erratic  Irishman,  had  promised  to 
write  a Prologue  for  it.  It  is  with  regard  to  this  Pro- 
logue that  Boswell  tells  a foolish  and  untrustworthy 
story  about  Goldsmith.  Dr.  Johnson  had  recently  been 
honoured  by  an  interview  with  his  Sovereign ; and  the 
members  of  the  Club  were  in  the  habit  of  flattering  him 
by  begging  for  a repetition  of  his  account  of  that  famous 
event.  On  one  occasion,  during  this  recital,  Boswell 
relates,  Goldsmith  “ remained  unmoved  upon  a sofa  at 
some  distance,  affecting  not  to  join  in  the  least  in  the 
eager  curiosity  of  the  company.  He  assigned  as  a 
reason  for  his  gloom  and  seeming  inattention  that  he 
apprehended  Johnson  had  relinquished  his  purpose  of 
furnishing  him  with  a Prologue  to  his  play,  with  the 
hopes  of  which  he  had  been  flattered ; but  it  was 
strongly  suspected  that  he  was  fretting  with  chagrin 
and  envy  at  the  singular  honour  Doctor  Johnson  had 
lately  enjoyed.  At  length  the  frankness  and  simplicity 

CIT.  XIT.] 



of  his  natural  character  prevailed.  He  sprang  from 
the  sofa,  advanced  to  Johnson,  and.  in  a kind  of  flutter, 
from  imagining  himself  in  the  situation  which  he  had 
just  been  hearing  described,  exclaimed,  ‘ Well,  you 
acquitted  yourself  in  this  conversation  better  than  I 
should  have  done ; for  I should  have  bowed  and  stam- 
mered through  the  whole  of  it.’  ” It  is  obvious  enough 
that  the  only  part  of  this  anecdote  which  is  quite 
worthy  of  credence  is  the  actual  phrase  used  b} 
Goldsmith,  which  is  full  of  his  customary  generosity 
and  self-depreciation.  All  those  “ suspicions”  of  his 
envy  of  his  friend  may  safely  be  discarded,  for  they 
are  mere  guesswork ; even  though  it  might  have  been 
natural  enough  for  a man  like  Goldsmith,  conscious  of 
his  singular  and  original  genius,  to  measure  himself 
against  Johnson,  who  was  merely  a man  of  keen  percep- 
tion and  shrewd  reasoning,  and  to  compare  the  deference 
paid  to  Johnson  with  the  scant  courtesy  shown  to 

As  a matter  of  fact,  the  Prologue  was  written  oy 
Dr.  Johnson;  and  the  now  complete  comedy  was,  after 
some  little  arrangement  of  personal  differences  between 
Goldsmith  and  Garrick,  very  kindly  undertaken  by 
Reynolds,  submitted  for  Garrick’s  approval.  But 
nothing  came  of  Reynolds’s  intervention.  Perhaps 
Goldsmith  resented  Garrick’s  airs  of  patronage  towards 
a poor  devil  of  an  author;  perhaps  Garrick  was  sur- 
prised by  the  manner  in  which  well-intentioned  criti- 
cisms were  taken  ; at  all  events,  after  a good  deal  of 
shilly-shallying,  the  play  was  taken  out  of  Garrick’s 
hands.  Fortunately,  a project  was  just  at  this  moment 
on  foot  for  starting  the  rival  theatre  in  Covent  Garden, 




under  the  management  of  George  Col  man ; and  to 
Colman  Goldsmith’s  play  was  forthwith  consigned. 
The  play  was  accepted  ; but  it  was  a long  time  before 
it  was  produced ; and  in  that  interval  it  may  fairly 
be  presumed  the  res  angusta  domi  of  Goldsmith  did  not 
become  any  more  free  and  generous  than  before.  It 
was  in  this  interval  that  the  elder  Newbery  died  ; 
Goldsmith  had  one  patron  the  less.  Another  patron 
who  offered  himscdf  was  civilly  bowed  to  the  door. 
This  is  an  incident  in  Goldsmith’s  career  which,  like  his 
interview  with  the  Earl  of  Northumberland,  should 
ever  be  remembered  in  his  honour.  The  Government 
of  the  day  were  desirous  of  enlisting  on  their  behalf 
the  services  of  writers  of  somewhat  better  position  than 
the  mere  libellers  whose  pens  were  the  slaves  of  any- 
body’s purse ; and  a Mr.  Scott,  a chaplain  of  Lord 
Sandwich,  appears  to  have  imagined  that  it  would  be 
be  worth  while  to  buy  Goldsmith.  He  applied  to 
Goldsmith  in  due  course ; and  this  is  an  account  of  the 
interview.  “ I found  him  in  a miserable  set  of  chambers 
in  the  Temple.  I told  him  my  authority ; I told  him 
I was  empowered  to  pay  most  liberally  for  his  exertions  ; 
and,  would  you  believe  it ! he  was  so  absurd  as  to  say, 
4 1 can  earn  as  much  as  will  supply  my  wants  without 
writing  for  any  party ; the  assistance  you  offer  is  there- 
fore unnecessary  to  me.’  And  I left  him  in  his  garret.” 
Needy  as  he  was,  Goldsmith  had  too  much  self-respect 
to  become  a paid  libeller  and  cutthroat  of  public 

On  the  evening  of  Friday,  the  29th  of  January,  1768, 
when  Goldsmith  had  now  reached  the  age  of  forty,  the 
comedy  of  The  Good-natured  Man  was  produced  at 




Covent  Garden  Theatre.  The  Prologue  had,  according 
to  promise,  been  written  by  Johnson ; and  a very 
singular  prologue  it  was.  Even  Boswell  was  struck  by 
the  odd  contrast  between  this  sonorous  piece  of  melan- 
choly and  the  fun  that  was  to  follow.  “ Tho  first  lines 
of  this  Prologue,”  he  conscientiously  remarks,  “ are 
strongly  characteristical  of  the  dismal  gloom  of  his 
mind  ; which,  in  his  case,  as  in  the  case  of  all  who  are 
distressed  with  the  same  malady  of  imagination,  transfers 
to  others  its  own  feelings.  Who  could  suppose  it  was 
to  introduce  a comedy,  when  Mr.  Bensley  solemnly 
began — 

“ ‘ Pressed  with  the  load  of  life,  the  weary  mind 
Surveys  the  general  toil  of  humankind  ’ ? 

But  this  dark  ground  might  make  Goldsmith’s  humour 
shine  the  more.”  When  we  come  to  the  comedy  itself, 
we  find  but  little  bright  humour  in  the  opening  passages. 
The  author  is  obviously  timid,  anxious,  and  constrained. 
There  is  nothing  of  the  brisk,  confident  viv  icity  with 
which  She  Stoops  to  Conquer  opens.  The  novice  does 
not  yet  understand  the  art  of  making  his  characters 
explain  themselves ; and  accordingly  the  benevolent 
uncle  and  honest  Jarvis  indulge  in  a conversation  which, 
laboriously  descriptive  of  the  character  of  young 
Honeywood,  is  spoken  “ at  ” the  audience.  With  the 
entrance  of  young  Honeywood  himself,  Goldsmith 
endeavours  to  become  a little  more  sprightly  ; but  there 
is  still  anxiety  hanging  over  him,  and  the  epigrams  are 
little  more  than  merely  formal  antitheses. 

u Jarvis.  This  bill  from  your  tailor  ; this  from  your  mercer  ; 
and  this  from  the  little  broker  in  Crooked  Lane.  He  says  he 




has  been  at  a great  deal  of  trouble  to  get  back  the  money 
you  borrowed. 

Hon.  That  I don’t  know ; but  I’m  sure  we  were  at  a great 
deal  of  trouble  in  getting  him  to  lend  it. 

Jar.  He  has  lost  all  patience. 

Hon.  Then  be  has  lost  a very  good  thing. 

Jar.  There’s  that  ten  guineas  you  were  sending  to  the  poor 
gentleman  and  his  children  in  the  Fleet.  I believe  that  would 
stop  his  mouth  for  a while  at  least. 

Hon.  Ay,  Jarvis,  but  what  will  fill  their  mouths  in  the 
mean  time  ? ” 

This  young  Honeywood,  the  hero  of  the  play,  is,  and 
remains  throughout,  a somewhat  ghostly  personage.  He 
has  attributes  ; but  no  flesh  or  blood.  There  is  much 
more  substance  in  the  next  character  introduced — the 
inimitable  Croaker,  who  revels  in  evil  forebodings  and 
drinks  deep  of  the  luxury  of  woe.  These  are  the  two 
chief  characters ; but  then  a play  must  have  a plot. 
And  perhaps  it  would  not  be  fair,  so  far  as  the  plot  is 
concerned,  to  judge  of  The  Good-natured  Man  merely 
as  a literary  production.  Intricacies  that  seem  tedious 
and  puzzling  on  paper  appear  to  be  clear  enough  on  the 
stage  : it  is  much  more  easy  to  remember  the  history 
and  circumstances  of  a person  whom  we  see  before  us, 
than  to  attach  these  to  a mere  name — especially  as  the 
name  is  sure  to  be  clipped  down  from  Honeywood  to 
Hon.  and  from  Leontine  to  Leon.  However,  it  is  in  the 
midst  of  all  the  cross-purposes  of  the  lovers  that  we 
once  more  come  upon  our  old  friend  Beau  Tibbs — though 
Mr.  Tibbs  is  now  in  much  better  circumstances,  and 
has  been  re  named  by  his  creator  Jack  Lofty.  Garrick 
had  objected  to  the  introduction  of  Jack,  on  the  ground 
that  he  was  only  a distraction.  But  Goldsmith,  whether 




in  writing  a novel  or  a play,  was  more  anxious  to  re- 
present human  nature  than  to  prune  a plot,  and  paid 
but  little  respect  to  the  unities,  if  only  he  could 
arouse  our  interest.  And  who  is  not  delighted  with 
this  Jack  Lofty  and  his  “ duchessy  ” talk — his  airs  of 
patronage,  his  mysterious  hints,  his  gay  familiarity  with 
the  great,  his  audacious  lying  ? 

u Lofty.  Waller?  Waller?  Is  he  of  the  house  ? 

Mrs.  Croaker . The  modern  poet  of  that  name,  sir. 

Lof.  Oh,  a modern  ! We  men  of  business  despise  the 
moderns  ; and  as  for  the  ancients,  we  have  no  time  to  read 
them.  Poetry  is  a pretty  thing  enough  for  our  wives  and 
daughters  ; but  not  for  us.  Why  now,  here  I stand  that 
know  nothing  of  books.  I say,  madam,  I know  nothing  of 
books ; and  yet,  I believe,  upon  a land-carriage  fishery,  a 
stamp  act,  or  a jag-hire,  I can  talk  my  two  hours  without 
feeling  the  want  of  them. 

Mrs.  Cro.  The  world  is  no  stranger  to  Mr.  Lofty’s  eminence 
in  every  capacity. 

Lof.  I vow  to  gad,  madam,  you  make  me  blush.  I’m 
nothing,  nothing,  nothing  in  the  world ; a mere  obscure 
gentleman.  To  be  sure,  indeed,  one  or  two  of  the  present 
ministers  are  pleased  to  represent  me  as  a formidable  man. 
I know  they  are  pleased  to  bespatter  me  at  all  their  little 
dirty  levees.  Yet,  upon  my  soul,  I wonder  what  they  see 
in  me  to  treat  me  so  ! Measures,  not  men,  have  always  been 
my  mark  ; and  1 vow,  by  all  that’s  honourable,  my  resent- 
ment has  never  done  the  men,  as  mere  men,  any  manner  of 
harm — that  is,  as  mere  men. 

Mrs.  Cro.  What  importance,  and  yet  what  modesty  ! 

Lof.  Oh,  if  you  talk  of  modesty,  madam,  there,  I own,  I’m 
accessible  to  praise  : modesty  is  my  foible  : it  was  so  the 
Duke  of  Brentford  used  to  say  of  me.  1 I love  Jack  Lofty,’ 
he  used  to  say : ‘ no  man  has  a finer  knowledge  of  things  ; 
quite  a man  of  information  ; and  when  he  speaks  upon  liis 




legs,  by  the  Lord  he’s  prodigious,  he  scouts  them  ; and  yet  all 
men  have  their  faults ; too  much  modesty  is  his/  says  his 

Mrs.  Cro.  And  yet,  I dare  say,  you  don’t  want  assurance 
when  you  come  to  solicit  for  your  friends. 

Lof.  Oh,  there  indeed  I’m  in  bronze.  Apropos  ! I have 
just  been  mentioning  Miss  Richland’s  case  to  a certain  per- 
sonage ; we  must  name  no  names.  When  I ask,  I am  not  to 
be  put  off,  madam.  No,  no,  I take  my  friend  by  the  button. 
A fine  girl,  sir  ; great  justice  in  her  case.  A friend  of  mine 
— borough  interest — business  must  be  done,  Mr.  Secretary. — 
I say,  Mr.  Secretary,  her  business  must  be  done,  sir.  That’s 
my  way,  madam. 

Mrs.  Cro.  Bless  me  ! you  said  all  this  to  the  Secretary  of 
State,  did  you  ? 

Lof.  I did  not  say  the  Secretary,  did  1 1 Well,  curse  it, 
since  you  have  found  me  out,  I will  not  deny  it.  It  was  to 
the  Secretary.” 

Strangely  enough,  what  may  now  seem  to  some  of  us 
the  very  best  scene  in  the  Good-natured  Man — the  scene, 
that  is,  in  which  young  Honeywood,  suddenly  finding 
Miss  Richland  without,  is  compelled  to  dress  up  the  two 
bailiffs  in  possession  of  his  house  and  introduce  them  to 
her  as  gentlemen  friends — was  very  nearly  damning  the 
play  on  the  first  night  of  its  production.  The  pit  was 
of  opinion  that  it  was  “low;  ” and  subsequently  the 
critics  took  up  the  cry,  and  professed  themselves  to  be 
so  deeply  shocked  by  the  vulgar  humours  of  the  bailiffs 
that  Goldsmith  had  to  cut  them  out.  But  on  the  open- 
ing night  the  anxious  author,  who  had  been  rendered 
nearly  distracted  by  the  cries  and  hisses  produced  by 
this  scene,  was  somewhat  reassured  when  the  audience 
began  to  laugh  again  over  the  tribulations  of  Mr. 
Croaker.  To  the  actor  who  played  the  part  he  expressed 




his  warm  gratitude  when  the  piece  was  over  ; assuring 
him  that  he  had  exceeded  his  own  conception  of  the 
character,  and  that  “ the  fine  comic  richness  of  his 
colouring  made  it  almost  appear  as  new  to  him  as  to 
any  other  person  in  the  house.” 

The  new  play  had  been  on  the  whole  favourably 
received  ; and,  when  Goldsmith  went  along  afterwards 
to  the  Club,  his  companions  were  doubtless  not  at  all 
surprised  to  find  him  in  good  spirits.  He  was  even 
merrier  than  usual ; and  consented  to  sing  his  favourite 
> ballad  about  the  Old  Woman  tossed  in  a Blanket.  But 
those  hisses  and  cries  were  still  rankling  in  his  memory ; 
and  he  himself  subsequently  confessed  that  he  was 
“ suffering  horrid  tortures.”  Hay,  when  the  other  mem- 
bers of  the  Club  had  gone,  leaving  him  and  Johnson 

together,  he  “ burst  out  a-crying,  and  even  swore  by 

that  he  would  never  write  again.”  When  Goldsmith 
told  this  story  in  after- days,  Johnson  was  naturally 
astonished ; perhaps — himself  not  suffering  much  from 
an  excessive  sensitiveness — he  may  have  attributed  that 
little  burst  of  hysterical  emotion  to  the  excitement  of 
the  evening  increased  by  a glass  or  two  of  punch,  and 
determined  therefore  never  to  mention  it.  “ All  which, 
Doctor,”  he  said,  “ I thought  had  been  a secret  between 
you  and  me ; and  I am  sure  I would  not  have  said  any- 
thing about  it  for  the  world.”  Indeed  there  was  little 
to  cry  over,  either  in  the  first  reception  of  the  piece  or 
in  its  subsequent  fate.  With  the  offending  bailiffs  cut 
out,  the  comedy  would  seem  to  have  been  very  fairly 
successful.  The  proceeds  of  three  of  the  evenings  were 
Goldsmith’s  payment ; and  in  this  manner  he  received 
£400.  Then  Griffin  published  the  play ; and  from  this 



[CH,  XII„ 

source  Goldsmith  received  an  additional  £100  ; so  that 
altogether  he  was  very  well  paid  for  his  work.  More- 
over he  had  appealed  against  the  judgment  of  the  pit  and 
the  dramatic  critics,  by  printing  in  the  published  edition 
the  bailiff  scene  which  had  been  removed  from  the  stage  ; 
and  the  Monthly  Review  was  so  extremely  kind  as  to  say 
that  44  the  bailiff  and  his  blackguard  follower  appeared 
intolerable  on  the  stage,  yet  we  are  not  disgusted  with 
them  in  the  perusal.”  Perhaps  we  have  grown  less 
scrupulous  since  then  ; but  at  all  events  it  would  be 
difficult  for  anybody  nowadays  to  find  anything  but  good- 
natured  fun  in  that  famous  scene.  There  is  an  occasional 
‘‘damn/’  it  is  true;  but  then  English  officers  have 
always  been  permitted  that  little  playfulness,  and  these 
two  gentlemen  were  supposed  to  4 4 serve  in  the  Fleet ; ” 
while  if  they  had  been  particularly  refined  in  their 
speech  and  manner,  how  could  the  author  have  aroused 
Miss  Kichland’s  suspicions  ? It  is  possible  that  the  two 
actors  who  played  the  bailiff  and  his  follower  may  have 
introduced  some  vulgar  “gag”  into  their  parts;  but 
there  is  no  warranty  for  anything  of  the  kind  in  the 
play  as  we  now  read  it. 



The  appearance  of  the  Good-natured  Man  ushered  in 
a halcyon  period  in  Goldsmith’s  life.  The  Traveller  and 
the  Vicar  had  gained  for  him  only  reputation  : this  new 
comedy  put  £500  in  his  pocket.  Of  course  that  was 
too  big  a sum  for  Goldsmith  to  have  about  him  long. 
Four-fifths  of  it  he  immediately  expended  on  the  purchase 
and  decoration  of  a set  of  chambers  in  Brick  Court, 
Middle  Temple  ; with  the  remainder  he  appears  to  have 
begun  a series  of  entertainments  in  this  new  abode, 
which  were  perhaps  more  remarkable  for  their  mirth 
than  their  decorum.  There  was  no  sort  of  frolic  in 
which  Goldsmith  would  not  indulge  for  the  amusement 
of  his  guests  ; he  would  sing  them  songs ; he  would 
throw  his  wig  to  the  ceiling ; he  would  dance  a minuet. 
And  then  they  had  cards,  forfeits,  blind-man’s-buff, 
until  Mr.  Blackstone,  then  engaged  on  his  Commentaries 
in  the  rooms  below,  was  driven  nearly  mad  by  the 
uproar.  These  parties  would  seem  to  have  been  of  a 
most  nondescript  character — chance  gatherings  of  any 
obscure  authors  or  actors  whom  he  happened  to  meet ; 
but  from  time  to  time  there  were  more  formal  enter- 




tainments,  at  which  Johnson,  Percy,  and  similar  distin- 
guished persons  were  present.  Moreover,  Dr.  Goldsmith 
himself  was  much  asked  out  to  dinner  too ; and  so,  not 
content  with  the  “ Tyrian  bloom,  satin  grain  and  garter, 
blue-silk  breeches,’  ’ which  Mr.  Filby  had  provided  for 
the  evening  of  the  production  of  the  comedy,  he  now 
had  another  suit  “ lined  with  silk,  and  gold  buttons,” 
that  he  might  appear  in  proper  guise.  Then  he  had  his 
airs  of  consequence  too.  This  was  his  answer  to  an 
invitation  from  Kelly,  who  was  his  rival  of  the  hour  : 
“ I would  with  pleasure  accept  your  kind  invitation,  but 
to  tell  you  the  truth,  my  dear  boy,  my  Traveller  has 
found  me  a home  in  so  many  places,  that  I am  engaged, 
I believe,  three  days.  Let  me  see.  To-day  I dine  with 
Edmund  Burke,  to-morrow  with  Dr.  Nugent,  and  the 
next  day  with  Topham  Beauclerc ; but  I’ll  tell  you 
what  I’ll  do  for  you,  I’ll  dine  with  you  on  Saturday.” 
Kelly  told  this  story  as  against  Goldsmith ; but  surely 
there  is  not  so  much  ostentation  in  the  reply.  Directly 
after  Tristram  Shandy  was  published,  Sterne  found 
himself  fourteen  deep  in  dinner  engagements  : why 
should  not  the  author  of  the  Traveller  and  the  Vicar 
and  the  Good-natured  Man  have  his  engagements  also  % 
And  perhaps  it  was  but  right  that  Mr.  Kelly,  who  was 
after  all  only  a critic  and  scribbler,  though  he  had 
written  a play  which  was  for  the  moment  enjoying  an 
undeserved  popularity,  should  be  given  to  understand 
that  Dr.  Goldsmith  was  not  to  be  asked  to  a hole- 
and-corner  chop  at  a moment’s  notice.  To-day  he  dines 
with  Mr.  Burke ; to  morrow  with  Dr.  Nugent ; the 
day  after  with  Mr.  Beauclerc.  If  you  wish  to  have  the 
honour  of  his  company,  you  may  choose  a day  after 




that ; and  then,  with  his  new  wig,  with  his  coat  of 
Tyrian  bloom  and  blue  silk  breeches,  with  a smart 
sword  at  his  side,  his  gold-headed  cane  in  his  hand, 
and  his  hat  under  his  elbow,  he  will  present  himself 
in  due  course.  Dr.  Goldsmith  is  announced,  and 
makes  his  grave  bow  : this  is  the  man  of  genius  about 
whom  all  the  town  is  talking  ; the  friend  of  Burke,  of 
Reynolds,  of  Johnson,  of  Hogarth  ; this  is  not  the  ragged 
Irishman  who  was  some  time  ago  earning  a crust  by 
running  errands  for  an  apothecary. 

Goldsmith’s  grand  airs,  however,  were  assumed  but 
seldom ; and  they  never  imposed  on  anybody.  His 
acquaintances  treated  him  with  a familiarity  which 
testified  rather  to  his  good-nature  than  to  their  good 
taste.  IsTow  and  again,  indeed,  he  was  prompted  to 
resent  this  familiarity  ; but  the  effort  was  not  successful. 
In  the  “ high  jinks  ” to  which  he  good-humouredly  re- 
sorted for  the  entertainment  of  his  guests  he  permitted 
a freedom  which  it  was  afterwards  not  very  easy  to 
discard ; and  as  he  was  always  ready  to  make  a butt  of 
himself  for  the  amusement  of  his  friends  and  acquaint- 
ances, it  came  to  be  recognised  that  anybody  was  allowed 
to  play  off  a joke  on  “ Goldy.”  The  jokes,  such  of  them 
as  have  been  put  on  record,  are  of  the  poorest  sort.  The 
horse  collar  is  never  far  off.  One  gladly  turns  from 
these  dismal  humours  of  the  tavern  and  the  club  to  the 
picture  of  Goldsmith’s  enjoying  what  he  called  a “ Shoe- 
maker’s Holiday  ” in  the  company  of  one  or  two  chosen 
intimates.  Goldsmith,  baited  and  bothered  by  the  wits 
of  a public-house,  became  a different  being  when  he  had 
assumed  the  guidance  of  a smal]  party  of  chosen  friends 
bent  on  having  a day’s  frugal  pleasure.  We  are  indebted 




to  one  Cooke,  a neighbour  of  Goldsmith’s  in  the  Temple, 
not  only  for  a most  interesting  description  of  one  of 
those  shoemaker’s  holidays,  but  also  for  the  knowledge 
that  Goldsmith  had  even  now  begun  writing  the  Deserted 
Village , which  was  not  published  till  1770,  two  years 
later.  Goldsmith,  though  he  could  turn  out  plenty  of 
manufactured  stuff  for  the  booksellers,  worked  slowly 
at  the  special  story  or  poem  with  which  he  meant  to 
“ strike  for  honest  fame.”  This  Mr.  Cooke,  calling  on 
him  one  morning,  discovered  that  Goldsmith  had  that 
day  written  these  ten  lines  of  the  Deserted  Village  : — 

“ Dear-lovely  bowers  of  innocence  and  ease, 

Seats  of  my  youth,  when  every  sport  could  please, 

How  often  have  I loitered  o’er  thy  green, 

Where  humble  happiness  endeared  each  scene  ! 

How  often  have  I paused  on  every  charm, 

The  sheltered  cot,  the  cultivated  farm, 

The  never-failing  brook,  the  busy  mill, 

The  decent  church,  that  topt  the  neighbouring  hill, 

The  hawthorn  bush,  with  seats  beneath  the  shade, 

For  talking  age  and  whispering  lovers  made  ! 39 

“ Come,”  said  he,  “ let  me  tell  you  this  is  no  bad 
morning’s  work ; and  now,  my  dear  boy,  if  you  are 
not  better  engaged,  I should  be  glad  to  enjoy  a shoe- 
maker s holiday  with  you.”  “ A shoemaker’s  holiday,” 
continues  the  writer  of  these  reminiscences,  “ was  a 
day  of  great  festivity  to  poor  Goldsmith,  and  was  spent 
in  the  following  innocent  manner.  Three  or  four  of 
his  intimate  friends  rendezvoused  at  his  chambers  to 
breakfast  about  ten  o’clock  in  the  morning;  at  eleven 
they  proceeded  by  the  City  Hoad  and  through  the  fields 




to  Highbury  Barn  to  dinner  ; about  six  o’clock  in  the 
evening  they  adjourned  to  White  Conduit  House  to  drink 
tea  ; and  concluded  by  supping  at  the  Grecian  or  Temple 
Exchange  coffee-house  or  at  the  Globe  in  Fleet  Street. 
There  was  a very  good  ordinary  of  two  dishes  and  pastry 
kept  at  Highbury  Barn  about  this  time  at  tenpence  per 
head,  including  a penny  to  the  waiter ; and  the  company 
generally  consisted  of  literary  characters,  a few  Templars, 
and  some  citizens  who  had  left  off  trade.  The  whole 
expenses  of  the  day’s  fete  never  exceeded  a crown,  and 
oftener  were  from  three-and-sixpence  to  four  shillings ; 
for  which  the  party  obtained  good  air  and  exercise, 
good  living,  the  example  of  simple  manners,  and  good 

It  would  have  been  well  indeed  for  Goldsmith  had  he 
been  possessed  of  sufficient  strength  of  character  to 
remain  satisfied  with  these  simple  pleasures,  and  to 
have  lived  the  quiet  and  modest  life  of  a man  of  letters 
on  such  income  as  he  could  derive  from  the  best  work 
he  could  produce.  But  it  is  this  same  Mr.  Cooke  who 
gives  decisive  testimony  as  to  Goldsmith’s  increasing 
desire  to  “ shine”  by  imitating  the  expenditure  of  the 
great ; the  natural  consequence  of  which  was  that  he 
only  plunged  himself  into  a morass  of  debt,  advances, 
contracts  for  hack-work,  and  misery.  “ His  debts  ren- 
dered him  at  times  so  melancholy  and  dejected,  that  I 
am  sure  he  felt  himself  a very  unhappy  man.”  Perhaps 
it  was  with  some  sudden  resolve  to  flee  from  temptation, 
and  grapple  with  the  difficulties  that  beset  him,  that  he, 
in  conjunction  with  another  Temple  neighbour,  Mr. 
Bott,  rented  a cottage  some  eight  miles  down  the  Edgware 
Hoad  ; and  here  he  set  to  work  on  the  History  of  Rome , 





which  he  was  writing  for  Davies.  Apart  from  this 
hack-work,  now  rendered  necessary  by  his  debt,  it  is 
probable  that  one  strong  inducement  leading  him  to 
this  occasional  seclusion  was  the  progress  he  might  be 
able  to  make  with  the  Deserted  Village . Amid  all  his 
town  gaieties  and  country  excursions,  amid  his  dinners 
and  suppers  and  dances,  his  borrowings,  and  contracts, 
and  the  hurried  literary  produce  of  the  moment,  he 
never  forgot  what  was  due  to  his  reputation  as  an  English 
poet.  The  journalistic  bullies  of  the  day  might  vent 
their  spleen  and  envy  on  him ; his  best  friends  might 
smile  at  his  conversational  failures  ; the  wits  of  the 
tavern  might  put  up  the  horse-collar  as  before  ; but  at 
least  he  had  the  consolation  of  his  art.  No  one  better 
knew  than  himself  the  value  of  those  finished  and  musical 
lines  he  was  gradually  adding  to  the  beautiful  poem, 
the  grace,  and  sweetness,  and  tender,  pathetic  charm  of 
which  make  it  one  of  the  literary  treasures  of  the  Eng- 
lish people. 

The  sorrows  of  debt  were  not  Goldsmith’s  only 
trouble  at  this  time.  For  some  reason  or  other  he  seems 
to  have  become  the  especial  object  of  spiteful  attack  on 
the  part  of  the  literary  cut-throats  of  the  day.  And 
Goldsmith,  though  he  might  listen  with  respect  to  the 
wise  advice  of  Johnson  on  such  matters,  was  never  able 
to  cultivate  Johnson’s  habit  of  absolute  indifference  to 
anything  that  might  be  said  or  sung  of  him.  “ The 
Kenricks,  Campbells,  MacNicols,  and  Hendersons,” 
says  Lord  Macaulay — speaking  of  Johnson,  “ did  their 
best  to  annoy  him,  in  the  hope  that  he  would  give  them 
importance  by  answering  them.  But  the  reader  will  in 
vain  search  his  works  for  any  allusion  to  Kenrick  or 




Campbell,  to  MacNicol  or  Henderson.  One  Scotch- 
man, bent  on  vindicating  the  fame  of  Scotch  learning, 
defied  him  to  the  combat  in  a detestable  Latin  hexa- 

‘ Maxime,  si  tu  vis,  cupio  contendere  tecum.  ’ 

But  Johnson  took  no  notice  of  the  challenge.  He  had 
learned,  both  from  his  own  observation  and  from  literary 
history,  in  which  he  was  deeply  read,  that  the  place  of 
books  in  the  public  estimation  is  fixed,  not  by  what  is 
written  about  them,  but  by  what  is  written  in  them  ; 
and  that  an  author  whose  works  are  likely  to  live,  is 
very  unwise  if  he  stoops  to  wrangle  with  detractors 
whose  works  are  certain  to  die.  He  always  maintained 
that  fame  was  a shuttlecock  which  could  be  kept  up  only 
by  being  beaten  back,  as  well  as  beaten  forward,  and 
which  would  soon  fall  if  there  were  only  one  battledore. 
No  saying  was  oftener  in  his  mouth  than  that  fine 
apophthegm  of  Bentley,  that  no  man  was  ever  written 
down  but  by  himself/’ 

It  was  not  given  to  Goldsmith  to  feel  “like  the 
Monument  ” on  any  occasion  whatsoever.  He  was 
anxious  to  have  the  esteem  of  his  friends ; he  was 
sensitive  to  a degree ; denunciation  or  malice,  be- 
gotten of  envy  that  Johnson  would  have  passed  un- 
heeded, wounded  him  to  the  quick.  “ The  insults  to 
which  he  had  to  submit,”  Thackeray  wrote  with  a quick 
and  warm  sympathy,  “ are  shocking  to  read  of — slander, 
contumely,  vulgar  satire,  brutal  malignity  perverting 
his  commonest  motives  and  actions  : he  had  his  share 
of  these,  and  one's  anger  is  roused  at  reading  of  them, 
as  it  is  at  seeing  a woman  insulted  or  a child  assaulted, 

i 2 




at  the  notion  that  a creature  so  very  gentle,  and  weak, 
and  full  of  love  should  have  had  to  suffer  so.”  Gold- 
smith’s revenge,  his  defence  of  himself,  his  appeal  to  the 
public,  were  the  Traveller , the  Vicar  of  Wakefield , the 
Deserted  Village  ; but  these  came  at  long  intervals ; and 
in  the  meantime  he  had  to  bear  with.  the  anonymous 
malignity  that  pursued  him  as  best  he  might.  No 
doubt,  when  Burke  was  entertaining  him  at  dinner ) and 
when  Johnson  was  openly  deferring  to  him  in  conversa- 
tion at  the  Club ; and  when  Reynolds  was  painting  his 
portrait,  he  could  afford  to  forget  Mr.  Kenrick  and  the 
rest  of  the  libelling  clan. 

The  occasions  on  which  Johnson  deferred  to  Goldsmith 
in  conversation  were  no  doubt  few  ; but  at  all  events 
the  bludgeon  of  the  great  Cham  would  appear  to  have 
come  down  less  frequently  on  “ honest  Goldy  ” than  on 
the  other  members  of  that  famous  coterie.  It  could 
come  down  heavily  enough.  “ Sir,”  said  an  incautious 
person,  “ drinking  drives  away  care,  and  makes  us  forget 
whatever  is  disagreeable.  Would  not  you  allow  a man  to 
drink  for  that  reason  % ” “ Yes,  sir,”  was  the  reply,  “ if 

he  sat  next  you.”  Johnson,  however,  was  considerate 
towards  Goldsmith,  partly  because  of  his  affection  for 
him,  and  partly  because  he  saw  under  what  disadvantages 
Goldsmith  entered  the  lists.  For  one  thing,  the  conver- 
sation of  those  evenings  would  seem  to  have  drifted  con- 
tinually into  the  mere  definition  of  phrases.  Now 
Johnson  had  spent  years  of  his  life,  during  the  com- 
pilation of  his  Dictionary,  in  doing  nothing  else  but 
defining  ; and,  whenever  the  dispute  took  a phraseological 
turn,  he  had  it  all  his  own  way.  Goldsmith,  on  the 
other  hand,  was  apt  to  become  confused  in  his  eager 




self-consciousness.  “Goldsmith,”  said  Johnson  to  Bos- 
well, “ should  not  be  for  ever  attempting  to  shine  in 
conversation  ; he  has  not  temper  for  it,  he  is  so  much 
mortified  when  he  fails.  . . When  he  contends,  if  he 
gets  the  better,  it  is  a very  little  addition  to  a man  of 
his  literary  reputation  : if  he  does  not  get  the  better,  he 
is  miserably  vexed.”  Boswell,  nevertheless,  admits  that 
Goldsmith  was  “ often  very  fortunate  in  his  witty  con- 
tests, even  when  he  entered  the  lists  with  Johnson 
himself,”  and  goes  on  to  tell  how  Goldsmith,  relating 
the  fable  of  the  little  fishes  who  petitioned  J upiter,  and 
perceiving  that  J ohnson  was  laughing  at  him,  immediately 
said,  “ Why,  Dr.  Johnson,  this  is  not  so  easy  as  you 
seem  to  think  ; for  if  you  were  to  make  little  fishes  talk, 
they  would  talk  like  whales."  Who  but  Goldsmith 
would  have  dared  to  play  jokes  on  the  sage  ? At  supper 
they  have  rumps  and  kidneys.  The  sage  expresses  his 
approval  of  “the  pretty  little  things  ; ” but  profoundly 
observes  that  one  must  eat  a good  many  of  them  before 
being  satisfied.  “ Ay,  but  how  many  of  them,”  asks 
Goldsmith,  “would  reach  to  the  moon?"  The  sage 
professes  his  ignorance  ; and,  indeed,  remarks  that  that 
would  exceed  even  Goldsmith’s  calculations  ; when  the 
practical  joker  observes,  “ Why,  one , sir,  if  it  were 
long  enough."  Johnson  was  completely  beaten  on  this 
occasion.  “Well,  sir,  I have  deserved  it.  I should 
not  have  provoked  so  foolish  an  answer  by  so  foolish  a 

It  was  Johnson  himself,  moreover,  who  told  the  story 
of  Goldsmith  and  himself  being  in  Poets’  Corner ; of  his 
saying  to  Goldsmith 

“ Forsitan  et  nostrum  nomen  miscebitur  istis,” 




and  of  Goldsmith  subsequently  repeating  the  quotation 
when,  having  walked  towards  Fleet  Street,  they  were 
confronted  by  the  heads  on  Temple  Bar.  Even  when 
Goldsmith  was  opinionated  and  wrong,  Johnson’s  con- 
tradiction was  in  a manner  gentle.  “ If  you  put  a tub 
full  of  blood  into  a stable,  the  horses  are  like  to  go 
mad,”  observed  Goldsmith.  “I  doubt  that,”  was  John- 
son’s reply.  “ Ha y,  sir,  it  is  a fact  well  authenticated.” 
Here  Thrale  interposed  to  suggest  that  Goldsmith  should 
have  the  experiment  tried  in  the  stable ; but  Johnson 
merely  said  that,  if  Goldsmith  began  making  these  ex- 
periments, he  would  never  get  his  book  written  at  all. 
Occasionally,  of  course,  Goldsmith  was  tossed  and  gored 
just  like  another.  “ But,  sir,”  he  had  ventured  to  say, 
in  opposition  to  Johnson,  “ when  people  live  together 
who  have  something  as  to  which  they  disagree,  and 
which  they  want  to  shun,  they  will  be  in  the  situation 
mentioned  in  the  story  of  Bluebeard,  4 You  may  look 
into  all  the  chambers  but  one.’  But  we  should  have  the 
greatest  inclination  to  look  into  that  chamber,  to  talk 
of  that  subject.”  Here,  according  to  Boswell,  Johnson 
answered  in  aloud  voice,  “ Sir,  lam  not  saying  that  you 
could  live  in  friendship  with  a man  from  whom  you  differ 
as  to  one  point ; I am  only  saying  that  I could  do  it.” 
But  then  again  he  could  easily  obtain  pardon  from  the 
gentle  Goldsmith  for  any  occasional  rudeness.  One 
evening  they  had  a sharp  passage  of  arms  at  dinner  ; 
and  thereafter  the  company  adjourned  to  the  Club,  where 
Goldsmith  sate  silent  and  depressed.  “ Johnson  per- 
ceived this,”  says  Boswell,  “and  said  aside  to  some  of 
us,  4 I’ll  make  Goldsmith  forgive  me  ’ ; and  then  called  to 
him  in  a loud  voice,  4 Dr.  Goldsmith,  something  passed 




to-day  where  you  and  I dined  : I ask  your  pardon.’ 
Goldsmith  answered  placidly,  ‘ It  must  be  much  from 
you,  sir,  that  I take  ill.’  And  so  at  once  the  difference 
was  over,  and  they  were  on  as  easy  terms  as  ever,  and 
Goldsmith  rattled  away  as  usual.”  For  the  rest,  Johnson 
was  the  constant  and  doughty  champion  of  Goldsmith 
as  a man  of  letters.  He  would  suffer  no  one  to  doubt 
the  power  and  versatility  of  that  genius  which  he  had 
been  amongst  the  first  to  recognise  and  encourage. 
“ Whether,  indeed,  we  take  him  as  a poet,  as  a comic 
writer,  cr  as  an  historian,”  he  announced  to  an  assem- 
blage of  distinguished  persons  met  together  at  dinner  at 
Mr.  Beauclerc’s,  “ he  stands  in  the  first  class.”  And  there 
was  no  one  living  who  dared  dispute  the  verdict — at 
least  in  Johnson’s  hearing. 



But  it  is  time  to  return  to  the  literary  performances 
that  gained  for  this  uncouth  Irishman  so  great  an 
amount  of  consideration  from  the  first  men  of  his  time. 
The  engagement  with  Griffin  about  the  History  of 
Animated  Nature  was  made  at  the  beginning  of  1769. 
The  work  was  to  occupy  eight  volumes ; and  Dr. 
Goldsmith  was  to  receive  eight  hundred  guineas  for  the 
complete  copyright.  Whether  the  undertaking  was 
originally  a suggestion  of  Griffin’s,  or  of  Goldsmith’s  own, 
does  not  appear.  If  it  was  the  author’s,  it  was  probably 
only  the  first  means  that  occurred  to  him  of  getting 
another  advance  ; and  that  advance — £500  on  account 
— he  did  actually  get.  But  if  it  was  the  suggestion  of 
the  publisher,  Griffin  must  have  been  a bold  man.  A 
writer  whose  acquaintance  with  animated  nature  was 
such  as  to  allow  him  to  make  the  “ insidious  tiger  ” a 
denizen  of  the  backwoods  of  Canada,1  was.  not  a very 
safe  authority.  But  perhaps  Griffin  had  consulted 
Johnson  before  making  this  bargain ; and  we  know  that 
Johnson,  though  continually  remarking  on  Goldsmith’s 
1 See  Citizen  of  the  World , Letter  XVII. 

CH.  XIV.] 



extraordinary  ignorance  of  facts,  was  of  opinion  that 
the  History  of  Animated  Nature  would  be  “as  entertain- 
ing as  a Persian  tale.”  However,  Goldsmith — no  doubt 

after  he  had  spent  the  five  hundred  guineas — tackled  the 
work  in  earnest.  When  Boswell  subsequently  went  out 
to  call  on  him  at  another  rural  retreat  he  had  taken  on 
the  Edgware  Boad,  Boswell  and  Mickle,  the  translator 
of  the  Lusiad , found  Goldsmith  from  home ; “ but, 
having  a curiosity  to  see  his  apartment,  we  went  in  and 
found  curious  scraps  of  descriptions  of  animals  scrawled 
upon  the  wall  with  a black-lead  pencil. ” Meanwhile, 

this  Animated  Nature  being  in  hand,  the  Roman  History 
was  published,  and  was  very  well  received  by  the  critics 
and  by  the  public.  “ Goldsmith’s  abridgment,”  Johnson 
declared,  “is  better  than  that  of  Lucius  Elorus  or 
Eutropius ; and  I will  venture  to  say  that  if  you 
compare  him  with  Vertot,  in  the  same  places  of  the 
Roman  History , you  will  find  that  he  excels  Yertot. 
Sir,  he  has  the  art  of  compiling,  and  of  saying  every- 
thing he  has  to  say  in  a pleasing  manner.” 

So  thought  the  booksellers  too ; and  the  success  of  the 
Roman  History  only  involved  him  in  fresh  projects  of 
compilation.  By  an  offer  of  £500  Davies  induced  him  to 
lay  aside  for  the  moment  the  Animated  Nature  and  begin 
“An  History  of  England,  from  the  Birth  of  the  British 
Empire  to  the  death  of  George  the  Second,  in  four 
volumes  octavo.”  He  also  about  this  time  undertook  to 
write  a Life  of  Thomas  Parnell.  Here,  indeed,  was 
plenty  of  work,  and  work  promising  good  pay  ; but  the 
depressing  thing  is  that  Goldsmith  should  have  been  the 
man  who  had  to  do  it.  He  may  have  done  it  better 
than  any  one  else  could  have  done — indeed,  looking  over 




the  results  of  all  that  drudgery,  we  recognise  now  the 
happy  turns  of  expression  which  were  never  long  absent 
from  Goldsmith’s  prose- writing — but  the  world  could 
well  afford  to  sacrifice  all  the  task-work  thus  got  through 
for  another  poem  like  the  Deserted  Village  or  the  Traveller. 
Perhaps  Goldsmith  considered  he  was  making  a fair  com- 
promise when,  for  the  sake  of  his  reputation,  he.  devoted 
a certain  portion  of  his  time  to  his  poetical  work,  and 
then,  to  have  money  for  fine  clothes  and  high  jinks,  gave 
the  rest  to  the  booksellers.  One  critic,  on  the  appear- 
ance of  the  Roman  History , referred  to  the  Traveller , 
and  remarked  that  it  was  a pity  that  the  “ author  of  one 
of  the  best  poems  that  has  appeared  since  those  of  Mr. 
Pope,  should  not  apply  wholly  to  works  of  imagination.” 
We  may  echo  that  regret  now  ; but  Goldsmith  would  at 
the  time  have  no  doubt  replied  that,  if  he  had  trusted  to 
his  poems,  he  would  never  have  been  able  to  pay  £400 
for  chambers  in  the  Temple.  In  fact  he  said  as  much 
to  Lord  Lisburn  at  one  of  the  Academy  dinners  : “ I 
cannot  afford  to  court  the  draggle-tail  muses,  my  Lord  ; 
they  would  let  me  starve ; but  by  my  other  labours  I 
can  make  shift  to  eat,  and  drink,  and  have  good  clothes.” 
And  there  is  little  use  in  our  regretting  now  that  Gold- 
smith was  not  cast  in  a more  heroic  mould ; we  have  to 
take  him  as  he  is;  and  be  grateful  for  what  he  has 
left  us. 

It  is  a grateful  relief  to  turn  from  these  booksellers’ 
contracts  and  forced  labours  to  the  sweet  clear  note 
of  singing  that  one  finds  in  the  Deserted  Village. 
This  poem,  after  having  been  repeatedly  announced  and 
as  often  withdrawn  for  further  revision,  was  at  last 
published  on  the  26th  of  May,  1770,  when  Goldsmith 




was  in  his  forty-second  year.  The  leading  idea  of  it 
he  had  already  thrown  out  in  certain  lines  in  the 

Traveller : — 

“ Have  we  not  seen,  round  Britain’s  peopled  shore, 

Her  useful  sons  exchanged  for  useless  ore  ? 

Seen  all  her  triumphs  but  destruction  haste, 

Like  flaring  tapers  brightening  as  they  waste  ? 

Seen  opulence,  her  grandeur  to  maintain, 

Lead  stern  depopulation  in  her  train, 

And  over  fields  where  scattered  hamlets  rose 
In  barren  solitary  pomp  repose  ? 

Have  we  not  seen  at  pleasure’s  lordly  call 
The  smiling  long-frequented  village  fall  ? 

Beheld  the  duteous  son,  the  sire  decayed, 

The  modest  matron,  and  the  blushing  maid, 

Forced  from  their  homes,  a melancholy  train, 

To  traverse  climes  beyond  the  western  main  ; 

Where  wild  Oswego  spreads  her  swamps  around, 

And  Niagara  stuns  with  thundering  sound  ?” 

— and  elsewhere,  in  recorded  conversations  of  his,  we 
find  that  he  had  somehow  got  it  into  his  head  that  the 
accumulation  of  wealth  in  a country  was  the  parent  of 
all  evils,  including  depopulation.  We  need  not  stay 
here  to  discuss  Goldsmith’s  position  as  a political  econo- 
mist ; even  although  Johnson  seems  to  sanction  his 
theory  in  the  four  lines  he  contributed  to  the  end  of  the 
poem.  Nor  is  it  worth  while  returning  to  that  objection 
of  Lord  Macaulay’s  which  has  already  been  mentioned 
in  these  pages,  further  than  to  repeat  that  the  poor  Irish 
village  in  which  Goldsmith  was  brought  up,  no  doubt 
looked  to  him  as  charming  as  any  Auburn,  when  he 
regarded  it  through  the  softening  and  beautifying  mist 




of  years.  It  is  enough  that  the  abandonment  by  a 
number  of  poor  people  of  the  homes  in  which  they  and 
theirs  have  lived  their  lives,  is  one  of  the  most  pathetic 
facts  in  our  civilisation  ; and  that  out  of  the  various 
circumstances  surrounding  this  forced  migration  Gold- 
smith has  made  one  of  the  most  graceful  and  touching 
poems  in  the  English  language.  It  is  clear  bird-singing  ; 
but  there  is  a pathetic  note  in  it.  That  imaginary 
ramble  through  the  Lissoy  that  is  far  away  has  recalled 
more  than  his  boyish  sports ; it  has  made  him  look  back 
over  his  own  life— the  life  of  an  exile. 

“ I still  had  hopes,  my  latest  hours  to  crown, 

Amidst  these  humble  bowers  to  lay  me  down  ; 

To  husband  out  life’s  taper  at  the  close, 

And  keep  the  flame  from  wasting  by  repose  : 

I still  had  hopes,  for  pride  attends  us  still, 

Amidst  the  swains  to  show  my  book-learned  skill, 
Around  my  fire  an  evening  group  to  draw, 

And  tell  of  all  I felt,  and  all  I saw  ; 

And,  as  a hare  whom  hounds  and  horns  pursue 
Pants  to  the  place  from  whence  at  first  he  flew, 

I still  had  hopes,  my  long  vexations  past, 

Here  to  return — and  die  at  home  at  last.” 

Who  can  doubt  that  it  was  of  Lissoy  he  was  thinking  % 
Sir  Walter  Scott,  writing  a generation  ago,  said  that 
“ the  church  which  tops  the  neighbouring  hill,”  the 
mill  and  the  brook  were  still  to  be  seen  in  the  Irish 
village  ; and  that  even 

The  hawthorn  bush  with  seats  beneath  the  shade 
For  talking  age  and  whispering  lovers  made,” 




had  been  identified  by  the  indefatigable  tourist,  and 
was  of  course  being  cut  to  pieces  to  make  souvenirs. 
But  indeed  it  is  of  little  consequence  whether  we  say 
that  Auburn  is  an  English  village,  or  insist  that  it  is 
only  Lissoy  idealised,  as  long  as  the  thing  is  true  in 
itself.  And  we  know  that  this  is  true  : it  is  not  that 
one  sees  the  place  as  a picture,  but  that  one  seems  to 
be  breathing  its  very  atmosphere,  and  listening  to 
the  various  cries  that  thrill  the  “ hollow  silence.” 

“ Sweet  was  the  sound,  when  oft  at  evening’s  close 
Up  yonder  hill  the  village  murmur  rose. 

There,  as  I past  with  careless  steps  and  slow, 

The  mingling  notes  came  softened  from  below  ; 

The  swain  responsive  as  the  milk-maid  sung, 

The  sober  herd  that  lowed  to  meet  their  young, 

The  noisy  geese  that  gabbled  o’er  the  pool, 

The  playful  children  just  let  loose  from  school, 

The  watch- dog's  voice  that  bayed  the  whispering  wind, 
And  the  loud  laugh  that  spake  the  vacant  mind.” 

Nor  is  it  any  romantic  and  impossible  peasantry  that 
is  gradually  brought  before  us.  There  are  noNorvalsin 
Lissoy.  There  is  the  old  woman — Catherine  Geraghty, 
they  say,  was  her  name — who  gathered  cresses  in  the 
ditches  near  her  cabin.  There  is  the  village  preacher 
whom  Mrs.  Hodson,  Goldsmith's  sister,  took  to  be  a 
portrait  of  their  father  ; but  whom  others  have  identified 
as  Henry  Goldsmith,  and  even  as  the  uncle  Contarine  : 
they  may  all  have  contributed.  And  then  comes  Paddy 
Byrne.  Amid  all  the  pensive  tenderness  of  the  poem 
this  description  of  the  schoolmaster,  with  its  strokes  of 
demure  humour,  is  introduced  with  delightful  effect. 




“ Beside  yon  straggling  fence  that  skirts  the  way, 

With  blossom’d  furze  unprofitably  gay, 

There,  in  his  noisy  mansion,  skilled  to  rule, 

The  village  master  taught  his  little  school. 

A man  severe  lie  was,  and  stern  to  view ; 

I knew  him  well,  and  every  truant  knew  : 

Well  had  the  boding  tremblers  learned  to  trace 
The  day’s  disasters  in  his  morning  face  ; 

Full  well  they  laughed  with  counterfeited  glee 
At  all  his  jokes,  for  many  a joke  had  he  ; 

Full  well  the  busy  whisper  circling  round 
Conveyed  the  dismal  tidings  when  he  frowned. 

Yet  he  was  kind,  or,  if  severe  in  aught, 

The  love  he  bore  to  learning  was  in  fault ; 

The  village  all  declared  how  much  he  knew  : 

’Twas  certain  he  could  write,  and  cipher  too  : 

Lands  he  could  measure,  terms  and  tides  presage, 

And  e’en  the  story  ran  that  he  could  gauge  : 

In  arguing,  too,  the  parson  owned  his  skill  ; 

For  e’en  though  vanquished,  he  could  argue  still ; 

While  words  of  learned  length  and  thundering  sound 
Amazed  the  gazing  rustics  ranged  around  ; 

And  still  they  gazed,  and  still  the  wonder  grew 
That  one  small  head  could  carry  all  he  knew.” 

All  this  is  so  simple  and  natural  that  we  cannot  fail  to 
believe  in  the  reality  of  Auburn,  or  Lissoy,  or  whatever 
the  village  may  be  supposed  to  be.  We  visit  the  clergy- 
man’s cheerful  fireside ; and  look  in  on  the  noisy  school ; 
and  sit  in  the  evening  in  the  ale  house  to  listen  to  the 
profound  politics  talked  there.  But  the  crisis  comes. 
Auburn  clelenda  est.  Here,  no  doubt,  occurs  the  least 
probable  part  of  the  poem.  Poverty  of  soil  is  a common 
cause  of  emigration ; land  that  produces  oats  (when 
it  can  produce  oats  at  all)  three-fourths  mixed  with 
weeds,  and  hay  chiefly  consisting  of  rushes,  naturally 

XIV. 1 



discharges  its  surplus  population  as  families  increase ; 
and  though  the  wrench  of  parting  is  painful  enough, 
the  usual  result  is  a change  from  starvation  to  com- 
petence. It  more  rarely  happens  that  a district  of 
peace  and  plenty,  such  as  Auburn  was  supposed  to  see 
around  it,  is  depopulated  to  add  to  a great  man’s  estate. 

“ The  man  of  wealth  and  pride 
Takes  up  a space  that  many  poor  supplied  ; 

Space  for  his  lake,  his  park’s  extended  bounds, 

Space  for  his  horses,  equipage,  and  hounds  : 

O O 0 0 0 

His  seat,  where  solitary  sports  are  seen, 

Indignant  spurns  the  cottage  from  the  green  : ” 

— and  so  forth.  This  seldom  happens ; but  it  does 
happen ; and  it  has  happened,  in  our  own  day,  in 
England.  It  is  within  the  last  twenty  years  that  an 
English  landlord,  having  faith  in  his  riches,  bade  a 
village  be  removed  and  cast  elsewhere,  so  that  it  should 
no  longer  be  visible  from  his  windows  : and  it  was  forth  • 
with  removed.  But  any  solitary  instance  like  this  is 
not  sufficient  to  support  the  theory  that  wealth  and 
luxury  are  inimical  to  the  existence  of  a hardy  peasan- 
try ; and  so  we  must  admit,  after  all,  that  it  is  poetical 
exigency  rather  than  political  economy  that  has  decreed 
the  destruction  of  the  loveliest  village  of  the  plain. 
Where,  asks  the  poet,  are  the  driven  poor  to  find  refuge, 
when  even  the  fenceless  commons  are  seized  upon  and 
divided  by  the  rich  ? In  the  great  cities  ? — 

“ To  see  profusion  that  he  must  not  share  ; 

To  see  ten  thousand  baneful  arts  combined 
To  pamper  luxury  and  thin  mankind.” 




It  is  in  this  description  of  a life  in  cities  that  there 
occurs  an  often-quoted  passage,  which  has  in  it  one  of 
the  most  perfect  lines  in  English  poetry  : — 

“ Ah,  turn  thine  eyes 

Where  the  poor  houseless  shivering  female  lies. 

She  once,  perhaps,  in  village  plenty  blest, 

Has  wept  at  tales  of  innocence  distrest ; 

Her  modest  looks  the  cottage  might  adorn, 

/ Sweet  as  the  primrose  peeps  beneath  the  thorn ; 

Now  lost  to  all ; her  friends,  her  virtue  fled, 

Near  her  betrayer’s  door  she  lays  her  head. 

And,  pinch’d  with  cold,  and  shrinking  from  the  shower, 
With  heavy  heart  deplores  that  luckless  hour, 

When  idly  first,  ambitious  of  the  town, 

She  left  her  wheel  and  robes  of  country  brown.” 

Goldsmith  wrote  in  a pre- Wordsworthian  age,  when, 
even  in  the  realms  of  poetry,  a primrose  was  not  much 
more  than  a primrose  ; but  it  is  doubtful  whether,  either 
before,  during,  or  since  Wordsworth’s  time  the  senti- 
ment that  the  imagination  can  infuse  into  the  common 
and  familiar  things  around  us  ever  received  more  happy 
expression  than  in  the  well-known  line, 

“ Sweet  as  the  'primrose  peeps  beneath  the  thorn? 

No  one  has  as  yet  succeeded  in  defining  accurately  and 
concisely  what  poetry  is ; but  at  all  events  this  line  is 
surcharged  with  a certain  quality  which  is  conspicuously 
absent  in  such  a production  as  the  Essay  on  Man. 
Another  similar  line  is  to  be  found  further  on  in  the 
description  of  the  distant  scenes  to  which  the  proscribed 
people  are  driven  : 



XTY.  ] 

“ Through  torrid  tracts  with  fainting  steps  they  go, 
Where  wild  Altama  murmurs  to  their  woe  A 

Indeed,  the  pathetic  side  of  emigration  has  never  been 
so  powerfully  presented  to  us  as  in  this  poem — 

“ When  the  poor  exiles,  every  pleasure  past, 

Hung  round  the  bowers,  and  fondly  looked  their  last, 
And  took  a long  farewell,  and  wished  in  vain 
For  seats  like  these  beyond  the  western  main, 

And  shuddering  still  to  face  the  distant  deep, 

Returned  and  wept,  and  still  returned  to  weep. 

Even  now,  methinks,  as  pondering  here  I stand, 

I see  the  rural  virtues  leave  the  land. 

Down  where  yon  anchoring  vessel  spreads  the  sail, 

That  idly  waiting  Haps  with  every  gale, 

Downward  they  move  a melancholy  band, 

Pass  from  the  shore,  and  darken  all  the  strand. 

Contented  toil,  and  hospitable  care, 

And  kind  connubial  tenderness  are  there  ; 

And  piety  with  wishes  placed  above, 

And  steady  loyalty,  and  faithful  love.” 

And  worst  of  all,  in  this  imaginative  departure,  we  find 
that  Poetry  herself  is  leaving  our  shores.  She  is  now  to 
try  her  voice 

“ On  Torno’s  cliffs  or  Pambamarca’s  side  ; ” 

and  the  poet,  in  the  closing  lines  of  the  poem,  bids  her 
a passionate  and  tender  farewell : — 

“ And  thou,  sweet  Poetry,  thou  loveliest  maid, 

Still  first  to  fly  where  sensual  joys  invade  ; 





Unfit  in  these  degenerate  times  of  shame 
To  catch  the  heart,  or  strike  for  honest  fame  ; 

Dear  charming  nymph,  neglected  and  decried, 

My  shame  in  crowds,  my  solitary  pride  ; 

Thou  source  of  . all  my  bliss,  and  all  my  woe, 

That  found’st  me  poor  at  first,  and  keep’st  me  so  ; 

Thou  guide  by  which  the  nobler  arts  excel, 

Thou  nurse  of  every  virtue,  fare  thee  well  ! 

Farewell,  and  0 ! where’er  thy  voice  be  tried, 

On  Torno’s  clitfs,  or  Pambamarca’s  side, 

Whether  where  equinoctial  fervours  glow, 

Or  winter  wraps  the  polar  world  in  snow, 

Still  let  thy  voice,  prevailing  over  time, 

Redress  the  rigours  of  the  inclement  clime  ; 

Aid  slighted  truth  with  thy  persuasive  strain  ; 

Teach  erring  man  to  spurn  the  rage  of  gain  : 

Teach  him,  that  states  of  native  strength  possest, 
Though  very  poor,  may  still  be  very  blest ; 

That  trade’s  proud  empire  hastes  to  swift  decay, 

As  ocean  sweeps  the  laboured  mole  away  ; 

While  self-dependent  power  can  time  defy, 

As  rocks  resist  the  billows  and  the  sky.” 

So  ends  this  graceful,  melodious,  tender  poem,  the  posi- 
tion of  which  in  English  literature,  and  in  the  estimation 
of  all  who  love  English  literature,  has  not  been  disturbed 
by  any  fluctuations  of  literary  fashion.  We  may  give  more 
attention  at  the  moment  to  the  new  experiments  of  the 
poetic  method  ; but  we  return  only  with  renewed  grati- 
tude to  the  old  familiar  strain,  not  the  least  merit  of 
which  is  that  it  has  nothing  about  it  of  foreign  tricks  or 
graces.  In  English  literature  there  is  nothing  more 
thoroughly  English  than  these  writings  produced  by  an 
Irishman  And  whether  or  not  it  was  Paddy  Byrne, 
and  Catherine  Geraghty,  and  the  Lissoy  ale-house  that 


Goldsmith  had  in  his  mind  when  ho  was  writing  the 
poem,  is  not  of  much  consequence  : the  manner  and 
language  and  feeling  are  all  essentially  English  ; so  that 
we  never  think  of  calling  Goldsmith  anything  but  an 
English  poet. 

The  poem  met  with  great  and  immediate  success.  Of 
course  everything  that  Dr.  Goldsmith  now  wrote 
was  read  by  the  public  ; he  had  not  to  wait  for  the 
recommendation  of  the  reviews ; but,  in  this  case,  even 
the  reviews  had  scarcely  anything  but  praise  in  the 
welcome  of  his  new  book.  It  was  dedicated,  in  grace- 
ful and  ingenious  terms,  to  Sir  Joshua  Reynolds,  who 
returned  the  compliment  by  painting  a picture  and 
placing  on  the  engraving  of  it  this  inscription  : “ This 
attempt  to  express  a character  in  the  Deserted  Village  is 
dedicated  to  Dr.  Goldsmith  by  his  sincere  friend  and 
admirer,  Sir  Joshua  Reynolds.’ ’ What  Goldsmith  got 
from  Griffin  for  the  poem  is  not  accurately  known ; and 
this  is  a misfortune,  for  the  knowledge  would  have 
enabled  us  to  judge  whether  at  that  time  it  was  possible 
for  a poet  to  court  the  draggle-tail  muses  without  risk 
of  starvation.  But  if  fame  were  his  chief  object  in  the 
composition  of  the  poem,  he  was  sufficiently  rewarded ; 
and  it  is  to  be  surmised  that  by  this  time  the  people  in 
Ireland — no  longer  implored  to  get  subscribers — had 
heard  of  the  proud  position  won  by  the  vagrant  youth 
who  had  “ taken  the  world  for  his  pillow”  some  eigh- 
teen years  before. 

That  his  own  thoughts  had  sometimes  wandered 
back  to  the  scenes  and  friends  of  his  youth  during 
this  labour  of  love,  we  know  from  his  letters.  In 
January  of  this  year,  while  as  yet  the  Deserted 

k 2 




Village  was  not  quite  through  the  press,  he  wrote 
to  his  brother  Maurice ; and  expressed  himself  as  most 
anxious  to  hear  all  about  the  relatives  from  whom  he 
had  been  so  long  parted.  He  has  something  to  say 
about  himself  too ; wishes  it  to  be  known  that  the  King 
has  lately  been  pleased  to  make  him  Professor  of  Ancient 
History  ain  a Royal  Academy  of  Painting  which  he  has 
just  established  ; ” but  gives  no  very  flourishing -account 
of  his  circumstances.  “ Honours  to  one  in  my  situation 
are  something  like  ruffles  to  a man  that  wants  a shirt/ ’ 
However,  there  is  some  small  legacy  of  fourteen  or 
fifteen  pounds  left  him  by  his  uncle  Contarine,  which 
he  understands  to  be  in  the  keeping  of  his  cousin 
Lawder ; and  to  this  wealth  he  is  desirous  of  foregoing 
all  claim  : his  relations  must  settle  how  it  may  be  best 
expended.  But  there  is  not  a reference  to  his  literary 
achievements,  or  the  position  won  by  them ; not  the 
slightest  yielding  to  even  a pardonable  vanity  ; it  is  a 
modest,  affectionate  letter.  The  only  hint  that  Maurice 
Goldsmith  receives  of  the  esteem  in  which  his  brother 
is  held  in  London,  is  contained  in  a brief  mention  of 
Johnson,  Burke,  and  others  as  his  friends.  “ I have 
sent  my  cousin  Jenny  a miniature  picture  of  myself, 
as  I believe  it  is  the  most  acceptable  present  I can  offer. 
I have  ordered  it  to  be  left  for  her  at  George  Faulkenor’s, 
folded  in  a letter.  The  face,  you  well  know,  is  ugly 
enough ; but  it  is  finely  painted.  I will  shortly  also 
send  my  friends  over  the  Shannon  some  mezzotinto 
prints  of  myself,  and  some  more  of  my  friends  here, 
such  as  Burke,  Johnson,  Reynolds,  and  Colman.  I 
believe  I have  written  an  hundred  letters  to  different 
friends  in  your  country,  and  never  received  an  answer 




from  any  of  them.  I do  not  know  how  to  account  for 
this,  or  why  they  are  unwilling  to  keep  up  for  me  those 
regards  which  I must  ever  retain  for  them.,,  The 
letter  winds  up  with  an  appeal  for  news,  news, 




Some  two  months  after  the  publication  of  the  De- 
serted Village , when  its  success  had  been  well  assured, 
Goldsmith  proposed  to  himself  the  relaxation  of  a little 
Continental  tour ; and  he  was  accompanied  by  three 
ladies,  Mrs.  Horneck  and  her  two  pretty  daughters, 
who  doubtless  took  more  charge  of  him  than  he  did 
of  them.  This  Mrs  Horneck,  the  widow  of  a certain 
Captain  Horneck,  was  connected  with  Reynolds,  while 
Burke  was  the  guardian  of  the  two  girls ; so  that  it 
was  natural  that  they  should  make  the  acquaintance 
of  Dr.  Goldsmith.  A foolish  attempt  has  been  made 
to  weave  out  of  the  relations  supposed  to  exist  between 
the  younger  of  the  girls  and  Goldsmith  an  imaginary 
romance ; but  there  is  not  the  slightest  actual  founda- 
tion for  anything  of  the  kind.  Indeed  the  best  guide 
we  can  have  to  the  friendly  and  familiar  terms  on  which 
he  stood  with  regard  to  the  Hornecks  and  their  circle, 
is  the  following  careless  and  jocular  reply  to  a chance 
invitation  sent  him  by  the  two  sisters  : — 

u Your  mandate  I got, 

You  may  all  go  to  pot ; 

CH.  XV.] 



Had  your  senses  been  right, 

You’d  have  sent  before  night ; 

As  I hope  to  be  saved, 

I put  off  being  shaved  ; 

For  I could  not  make  bold, 

While  the  matter  was  cold, 

To  meddle  in  suds, 

Or  to  put  on  my  duds  ; 

So  tell  Horneck  and  Nesbitt 
And  Baker  and  his  bit, 

And  Kauffman  beside, 

And  the  Jessamy  bride  ; 

With  the  rest  of  the  crew, 

The  Reynoldses  two, 

Little  Comedy’s  face 
And  the  Captain  in  lace, 
o « o 

Yet  how  can  I when  vext 
Thus  stray  from  my  text  ? 

Tell  each  other  to  rue 
Your  Devonshire  crew, 

For  sending  so  late 
To  one  of  my  state. 

But  ’tis  Reynolds’s  way 
From  wisdom  to  stray, 

And  Angelica’s  whim 
To  be  frolic  like  him. 

But,  alas  ! your  good  worships,  how  could  they  be  wiser, 
When  both  have  been  spoiled  in  to-day’s  Advertiser  f ” 

“ The  Jessamy  Bride  ” was  the  pet  nickname  he  had 
bestowed  on  the  younger  Miss  Horneck — the  heroine  of 
the  speculative  romance  just  mentioned ; “ Little 
Comedy  ” was  her  sister;  “ the  Captain  in  lace  ” their 
brother,  who  was  in  the  Guards.  Ko  doubt  Mrs. 
Horneck  and  her  daughters  were  very  pleased  to  have 




with  them  on  this  Continental  trip  so  distinguished  a 
person  as  Dr.  Goldsmith ; and  he  must  have  been 
very  ungrateful  if  he  was  not  glad  to  be  provided  with 
such  charming  companions.  The  story  of  the  sudden 
envy  he  displayed  of  the  admiration  excited  by  the  two 
handsome  young  Englishwomen  as  they  stood  at  a 
hotel-window  in  Lille,  is  so  incredibly  foolish  that  it 
needs  scarcely  be  repeated  here ; unless  to  repeat  the 
warning  that,  if  ever  anybody  was  so  dense  as  not  to 
see  the  humour  of  that  piece  of  acting,  one  had  better 
look  with  grave  suspicion  on  every  one  of  the  stories 
told  about  Goldsmith’s  vanities  and  absurdities. 

Even  with  such  pleasant  companions,  the  trip  to  Paris 
was  not  everything  he  had  hoped.  “ I find,”  he  wrote 
to  Reynolds  from  Paris,  “ that  travelling  at  twenty  and 
at  forty  are  very  different  things.  I set  out  with  all 
my  confirmed  habits  about  me,  and  can  find  nothing 
on  the  Continent  so  good  as  when  I formerly  left  it. 
One  of  our  chief  amusements  here  is  scolding  at  every- 
thing we  meet  with,  and  praising  every  thing  and  every 
person  we  left  at  home.  You  may  judge  therefore 
whether  your  name  is  not  frequently  bandied  at  table 
among  us.  To  tell  you  the  truth,  I never  thought  I 
could  regret  your  absence  so  much,  as  our  various 
mortifications  on  the  road  have  often  taught  me  to  do. 
I could  tell  you  of  disasters  and  adventures  without 
number,  of  our  lying  in  barns,  and  of  my  being  half 
poisoned  with  a dish  of  green  peas,  of  our  quarrelling 
with  postilions  and  being  cheated  by  our  landladies,  but 
I reserve  all  this  for  a happy  hour  which  I expect  to 
share  with  you  upon  my  return.”  The  fact  is  that 
although  Goldsmith  had  seen  a good  deal  of  foreign 

XV  ] 



travel,  the  manner  of  his  making  the  grand  tour  in  his 
youth  was  not  such  as  to  fit  him  for  acting  as  courier  to 
a party  of  ladies.  However,  if  they  increased  his 
troubles,  they  also  shared  them ; and  in  this  same  letter 
he  bears  explicit  testimony  to  the  value  of  their  com- 
panionship.  “ I will  soon  be  among  you,  better  pleased 
with  my  situation  at  home  than  I ever  was  before.  And 
yet  I must  say,  that  if  anything  could  make  France 
pleasant,  the  very  good  women  with  whom  I am  at 
present  would  certainly  do  it.  I could  say  more  about 
that,  but  I intend  showing  them  this  letter  before  I 
send  it  away.”  Mrs.  Horneck,  Little  Comedy,  the 
Jessamy  Bride,  and  the  Professor  of  Ancient  History  at 
the  Boyal  Academy,  all  returned  to  London  ; the  last  to 
resume  his  round  of  convivialities  at  taverns,  excursions 
into  regions  of  more  fashionable  amusement  along 
with  Reynolds,  and  task-work  aimed  at  the  pockets  of 
the  booksellers. 

It  was  a happy-go-lucky  sort  of  life.  We  find  him 
now  showing  off  his  fine  clothes  and  his  sword  and  wig 
at  Ranelagh  Gardens,  and  again  shut  up  in  his  chambers 
compiling  memoirs  and  histories  in  hot  haste ; now  the 
guest  of  Lord  Clare,  and  figuring  at  Bath,  and  again 
delighting  some  small  domestic  circle  by  his  quips  and 
cranks;  playing  jokes  for  the  amusement  of  children, 
and  writing  comic  letters  in  verse  to  their  elders ; 
everywhere  and  at  all  times  merry,  thoughtless,  good- 
natured.  And,  of  course,  we  find  also  his  humorous 
pleasantries  being  mistaken  for  blundering  stupidity. 
In  perfect  good  faith  Boswell  describes  how  a number 
of  people  burst  out  laughing  when  Goldsmith  publicly 
complained  that  he  had  met  Lord  Camden  at  Lord 




Clare’s  house  in  the  country,  “ and  he  took  no  more 
notice  of  me  than  if  1 had  been  an  ordinary  man.” 
Goldsmith’s  claiming  to  be  a very  extraordinary  person 
was  precisely  a stroke  of  that  humorous  self- deprecia- 
tion in  which  he  was  continually  indulging  ; and  the 
Jessamy  Bride  has  left  it  on  record  that  “on  many 
occasions,  from  the  peculiar  manner  of  his  humour,  and 
assumed  frown  of  countenance,  what  was  often  uttered 
in  jest  was  mistaken  by  those  who  did  not  know  him 
for  earnest.”  This  would  appear  to  have  been  one  of 
those  occasions.  The  company  burst  out  laughing  at 
Goldsmith’s  having  made  a fool  of  himself ; and  Johnson 
was  compelled  to  come  to  his  rescue.  “Nay,  gentlemen, 
Dr.  Goldsmith  is  in  the  right.  A nobleman  ought 
to  have  made  up  to  such  a man  as  Goldsmith ; and  I 
think  it  is  much  against  Lord  Camden  that  he  neglected 

Mention  of  Lord  Clare  naturally  recalls  the  Haunch 
of  Venison.  Goldsmith  was  particularly  happy  in  writing 
bright  and  airy  verses  ; the  grace  and  lightness  of  his 
touch  has  rarely  been  approached.  It  must  be  confessed, 
however,  that  in  this  direction  he  was  somewhat  of  an 
Autolycus  ; unconsidered  trifles  he  freely  appropriated  ; 
but  he  committed  these  thefts  with  scarcely  any  con- 
cealment, and  with  the  most  charming  air  in  the  world. 
In  fact  some  of  the  snatches  of  verse  which  he  con- 
tributed to  the  Bee  scarcely  profess  to  be  anything  else 
than  translations,  though  the  originals  are  not  given. 
But  who  is  likely  to  complain  when  we  get  as  the  result 
such  a delightful  piece  of  nonsense  as  the  famous  Elegy 
on  that  Glory  of  her  Sex,  Mrs.  Mary  Blaize,  which  has 
been  the  parent  of  a vast  progeny  since  Goldsmith’s  time  ? 


u Good  people  all,  with  one  accord 
Lament  for  Madam  Blaize, 

Who  never  wanted  a good  word, 

From  those  who  spoke  her  praise. 

° The  needy  seldom  passed  her  door, 

And  always  found  her  kind  ; 

She  freely  lent  to  all  the  poor, — 

Who  left  a pledge  behind. 

u She  strove  the  neighbourhood  to  please, 

With  manners  wondrous  winning  ; 

And  never  followed  wicked  ways,— 

Unless  when  she  was  sinning. 

u At  church,  in  silks  and  satins  new, 

With  hoop  of  monstrous  size, 

She  never  slumbered  in  her  pew, — 

But  when  she  shut  her  eyes. 

u Her  love  was  sought,  I do  aver, 

By  twenty  beaux  and  more  ; 

The  king  himself  has  followed  her, — 

When  she  has  walked  before. 

a But  now  her  wealth  and  finery  fled, 

Her  hangers-on  cut  short  all ; 

The  doctors  found,  when  she  was  dead, — 

Her  last  disorder  mortal. 

u Let  us  lament,  in  sorrow  sore. 

For  Kent  Street  well  may  say, 

That  had  she  lived  a twelvemonth  more, — 

She  had  not  died  to-day.” 

The  Haunch  of  Venison , on  the  other  hand,  is  a poetical 
letter  of  thanks  to  Lord  Clare — an  easy,  jocular  epistle, 
in  which  the  writer  has  a cut  or  two  at  certain  of  his 
literary  brethren.  Then,  as  he  is  looking  at  the  venison, 



[CH.  XV. 

and  determining  not  to  send  it  to  any  such  people  as 
Hiffernan  or  Higgins,  who  should  step  in  but  our  old 
friend  Beau  Tibbs,  or  some  one  remarkably  like  him  in 
manner  and  speech  ? — 

“ While  thus  I debated,  in  reverie  centred, 

An  acquaintance,  a friend  as  he  called  himself,  entered  ; 

An  under-bred,  fine-spoken  fellow  was  he, 

And  he  smiled  as  he  looked  at  the  venison  and  me. 

1 What  have  we  got  here  ? — Why  this  is  good  eating  ! 

Your  own,  I suppose — or  is  it  in  waiting  ? ’ 

‘Why,  whose  should  it  be  ?’  cried  I with  a flounce  ; 

‘ I get  these  things  often  ’ — but  that  was  a bounce  : 

‘ Some  lords,  my  acquaintance,  that  settle  the  nation, 

Are  pleased  to  be  kind — but  I hate  ostentation.’ 

‘ If  that  be  the  case  then,’  cried  he,  very  gay, 

‘ I’m  glad  I have  taken  this  house  in  my  way. 

To-morrow  you  take  a poor  dinner  with  me  ; 

No  words — I insist  on’t — precisely  at  three  ; 

We’ll  have  Johnson,  and  Burke  ; all  the  wits  will  be  there  ,* 
My  acquaintance  is  slight,  or  I’d  ask  my  Lord  Clare. 

And  now  that  I think  on’t,  as  I am  a sinner  ! 

We  wanted  this  venison  to  make  out  the  dinner. 

What  say  you — a pasty  ? It  shall,  and  it  must, 

And  my  wife,  little  Kitty,  is  famous  for  crust. 

Here,  porter  ! this  venison  with  me  to  Mile  End  ; 

No  stirring — I beg — my  dear  friend — my  dear  friend  ! ’ 
Thus,  snatching  his  hat,  he  brushed  off  like  the  wind, 

And  the  porter  and  eatables  followed  behind.” 

We  need  not  follow  the  vanished  venison — which  did 
not  make  its  appearance  at  the  banquet  any  more  than 
did  Johnson  or  Burke — further  than  to  say  that  if  Lord 
Clare  did  not  make  it  good  to  the  poet  he  did  not  deserve 
to  have  his  name  associated  with  such  a clever  and 
careless  jeu  d' esprit. 



But  the  writing  of  smart  verses  could  not  keep 
Dr.  Goldsmith  alive,  more  especially  as  dinner- 
parties, Ranelagh  masquerades,  and  similar  diversions 
pressed  heavily  on  his  finances.  When  his  History  of 
England  appeared,  the  literary  cut-throats  of  the  day 
accused  him  of  having  been  bribed  by  the  Government 
to  betray  the  liberties  of  the  people  : 1 a foolish  charge. 
What  Goldsmith  got  for  the  English  History  was  the 
sum  originally  stipulated  for,  and  now  no  doubt  all 
spent ; with  a further  sum  of  fifty  guineas  for  an 
abridgment  of  the  work.  Then,  by  this  time,  he  had 
persuaded  Griffin  to  advance  him  the  whole  of  the 
eight  hundred  guineas  for  the  Animated  Nature , though 
he  had  only  done  about  a third  part  of  the  book.  At 
the  instigation  of  Newbery  he  had  begun  a story  after 
the  manner  of  the  Vicar  of  Wakefield ; but  it  appears 
that  such  chapters  as  he  had  written  were  not  deemed 

1 “ God  knows  I had  no  thought  for  or  against  liberty  in  my  head  ; 
my  whole  aim  being  to  make  up  a book  of  a decent  size  that,  as 
Squire  Richard  says,  ‘ would  do  no  harm  to  nobody.’  ” — Goldsmith 
to  Langton,  September,  1771. 




to  be  promising ; and  the  undertaking  was  abandoned. 
The  fact  is,  Goldsmith  was  now  thinking  of  another 
method  of  replenishing  his  purse.  The  Vicar  of  Wakefield 
had  brought  him  little  but  reputation  ; the  Good-natured 
Man  had  brought  him  £500.  It  was  to  the  stage  that 
he  now  looked  for  assistance  out  of  the  financial  slough 
in  which  he  was  plunged.  He  was  engaged  in  writing  a 
comedy ; and  that  comedy  was  She  Stoops  to  Conquer . 

In  the  Dedication  to  Johnson  which  was  prefixed  to 
this  play  on  its  appearance  in  type,  Goldsmith  hints 
that  the  attempt  to  write  a comedy  not  of  the  senti- 
mental order  then  in  fashion,  was  a hazardous  thing  ; 
and  also  that  Colman,  who  saw  the  piece  in  its  various 
stages,  was  of  this  opinion  too.  Colman  threw  cold 
water  on  the  undertaking  from  the  very  beginning. 
It  was  only  extreme  pressure  on  the  part  of  Gold- 
smith’s friends  that  induced — or  rather  compelled  — 
him  to  accept  the  comedy ; and  that,  after  he  had 
kept  the  unfortunate  author  in  the  tortures  of  suspense 
for  month  after  month.  But  although  Goldsmith 
knew  the  danger,  he  was  resolved  to  face  it.  He 
hated  the  sentimentalists  and  all  their  works ; and 
determined  to  keep  his  new  comedy  faithful  to  nature, 
whether  people  called  it  low  or  not.  His  object 
was  to  raise  a genuine,  hearty  laugh  ; not  to  write  a 
piece  for  school  declamation ; and  he  had  enough  con- 
fidence in  himself  to  do  the  work  in  his  own  way.  More 
over  he  took  the  earliest  possible  opportunity,  in  writing 
this  piece,  of  poking  fun  at  the  sensitive  creatures  who 
had  been  shocked  by  the  “ vulgarity  ” of  The  Good- 
natured  Man.  “ Bravo  ! Bravo  ! ” cry  the  jolly  com- 
panions of  Tony  Lumpkin,  when  that  promising  buckeen 


has  finished  his  song  at  the  Three  Pigeons ; then  follows 
criticism : — 

“ First  Fellow . The  squire  has  got  spunk  in  him. 

Second  Fel.  I loves  to  hear  him  sing,  bekeays  he  never  gives 
us  nothing  that’ s low. 

Third  Fel.  0 damn  anything  that’s  low,  I cannot  bear  it. 

Fourth  Fel.  The  genteel  thing  is  the  genteel  thing  any 
time : if  so  be  that  a gentleman  bees  in  a concatenation 

Third  Fel.  I likes  the  maxum  of  it,  Master  Muggins. 
What,  though  I am  obligated  to  dance  a bear,  a man  may  be 
a gentleman  for  all  that.  May  this  be  my  poison,  if  my  bear 
ever  dances  but  to  the  very  genteelest  of  tunes  ; 4 Water 
Parted,’  or  the  1 The  Minuet  in  Ariadne.’  ” 

Indeed,  Goldsmith,  however  he  might  figure  in  society, 
was  always  capable  of  holding  his  own  when  he  had  his 
pen  in  his  hand.  And  even  at  the  outset  of  this  comedy 
one  sees  how  much  he  has  gained  in  literary  confidence 
since  the  writing  of  the  Good-natured  Man.  Here 
there  is  no  anxious  stiffness  at  all ; but  a brisk,  free 
conversation,  full  of  point  that  is  not  too  formal,  and 
yet  conveying  all  the  information  that  has  usually  to  be 
crammed  into  a first  scene.  In  taking  as  the  ground- 
work of  his  plot  that  old  adventure  that  had  befallen 
himself — his  mistaking  a squire’s  house  for  an  inn — he 
was  hampering  himself  with  something  that  was  not  the 
less  improbable  because  it  had  actually  happened  ; but 
we  begin  to  forget  all  the  improbabilities  through  the 
naturalness  ci  the  people  to  whom  we  are  introduced, 
and  the  brisk  movement  and  life  of  the  piece. 

Fashions  in  dramatic  literature  may  come  and  go  ; but 
the  whole  some  good-natured  fun  of  She  Stoops  to  Conquer 




is  as  capable  of  producing  a hearty  laugh  now,  as  it  was 
when  it  first  saw  the  light  in  Covent  Garden.  Tony 
Lumpkin  is  one  of  the  especial  favourites  of  the  theatre- 
going public  ; and  no  wonder.  With  all  the  young  cub’s 
jibes  and  jeers,  his  impudence  and  grimaces,  one  has  a 
sneaking  love  for  the  scapegrace  ; we  laugh  with  him, 
rather  than  at  him  ; how  can  we  fail  to  enjoy  those 
malevolent  tricks  of  his  when  he  so  obviously  enjoys 
them  himself  ? And  Diggory — do  we  not  owe  an  eternal 
debt  of  gratitude  to  honest  Diggory  for  telling  us  about 
Ould  Grouse  in  the  gunroom,  that  immortal  joke  at 
which  thousands  and  thousands  of  people  have  roared 
with  laughter,  though  they  never  any  one  of  them  could 
tell  what  the  story  was  about  ? The  scene  in  which 
the  old  squire  lectures  his  faithful  attendants  on  their 
manners  and  duties,  is  one  of  the  truest  bits  of  comedy 
on  the  English  stage  : 

“ Mr.  Hard  castle.  But  you’re  not  to  stand  so,  with  your 
hands  in  your  pockets.  Take  your  hands  from  your  pockets, 
Koger  ; and  from  your  head,  you  blockhead  you.  See  how 
Diggory  carries  his  hands.  They’re  a little  too  stiff,  indeed, 
but  that’s  no  great  matter. 

Diggory.  Ay,  mind  how  I hold  them.  I learned  to  hold 
my  hands  this  way  when  I was  upon  drill  for  the  militia. 
And  so  being  upon  drill 

Hard.  You  must  not  be  so  talkative,  Diggory.  You 
must  be  all  attention  to  the  guests.  Yen  must  hear  us  talk, 
and  not  think  of  talking  ; you  must  see  us  drink,  and  not 
think  of  drinking ; you  must  see  us  eat,  and  not  think  of 

Dig.  By  the  laws,  your  worship,  that’s  parfectly  unpossible, 
Whenever  Diggory  sees  yeating  going  forward  ecod,  he’s 
always  wishing  for  a mouthful  himself. 




Hard.  B1  ockhead  ! Is  not  a bellyful]  in  the  kitchen  as 
good  as  a bellyfull  in  the  parlour  ? Stay  your  stomach  with 
that  reflection. 

Dig.  Ecod,  I thank  your  worship,  I’ll  make  a shift  to  stay 
my  stomach  with  a slice  of  cold  beef  in  the  pantry. 

Hard.  Diggory,  you  are  too  talkative. — Then,  if  1 happen 
to  say  a good  thing,  or  tell  a good  story  at  table,  you  must 
not  all  burst  out  a-laughing,  as  if  you  made  part  of  the 

Dig.  Then  ecod  your  worship  must  not  tell  the  story  of 
Ould  Grouse  in  the  gunroom  : I can’t  help  laughing  at  that 
— he  ! he  ! he  ! — for  the  soul  of  me.  We  have  laughed  at 
that  these  twenty  years — ha  ! ha  ! ha  ! 

Hard.  Ha  ! ha  ! ha  ! The  story  is  a good  one.  Well, 
honest  Diggory,  you  may  laugh  at  that — but  still  remember 
to  be  attentive.  Suppose  one  of  the  company  should  call  for 
a glass  of  wine,  how  will  you  behave  ? A glass  of  wine,  sir, 
if  you  please  (to  Diggory). — Eh,  why  don’t  you  move  ? 

Dig.  Ecod,  your  worship,  I never  have  courage  till  I see 
the  eatables  and  drinkables  brought  upo’  the  table,  and  then 
Pm  as  bauld  as  a lion. 

Hard.  What,  will  nobody  move  ? 

First  Serv.  I’m  not  to  leave  this  pleace. 

Second  Serv.  I’m  sure  it’s  no  pleace  of  mine. 

Third,  Serv.  Nor  mine,  for  sartain. 

Dig.  Wauns,  and  I’m  sure  it  canna  be  mine.” 

No  doubt  all  this  is  very  “ low  ” indeed;  and  per- 
haps  Mr.  Colman  may  be  forgiven  for  suspecting  that 
the  refined  wits  of  the  day  would  be  shocked  by  these 
rude  humours  of  a parcel  of  servants.  But  all  that  can 
be  said  in  this  direction  was  said  at  the  time  by  Horace 
Walpole,  in  a letter  to  a friend  of  his  ; and  this  criti- 
cism is  so  amusing  in  its  pretence  and  imbecility  that  it 
is  worth  quoting  at  large  “Dr.  Goldsmith  has  written 
a comedy, 7 says  this  profound  critic.  “ — no,  it  is  the 





lowest  of  all  farces ; it  is  not  the  subject  I condemn, 
though  very  vulgar,  but  the  execution.  The  drift  tends 
to  no  moral,  no  edification  of  any  kind — the  situations, 
however,  are  well  imagined,  and  make  one  laugh  in  spite  ; 
of  the  grossness  of  the  dialogue,  the  forced  witticisms, 
and  total  improbability  of  the  whole  plan  and  conduct. 

But  what  disgusts  me  most  is,  that  though  the  characters 
are  very  low,  and  aim  at  low  humour,  not  one  of  them 
says  a sentence  that  is  natural,  or  marks  any  character 
at  all.”  Horace  Walpole  sighing  for  edification — from  a 
Covent  Garden  comedy ! Surely,  if  the  old  gods  have 
any  laughter  left,  and  if  they  take  any  notice  of  what 
is  done  in  the  literary  world  here  below,  there  must 
have  rumbled  through  the  courts  of  Olympus  a guffaw  of 
sardonic  laughter,  when  that  solemn  criticism  was  put 
down  on  paper. 

Meanwhile  Colman’s  original  fears  had  developed  into 
a sort  of  stupid  obstinacy.  He  was  so  convinced  that 
the  play  would  not  succeed,  that  he  would  spend  no 
money  in  putting  it  on  the  stage ; while  far  and  wide  he 
announced  its  failure  as  a foregone  conclusion.  Under 
this  gloom  of  vaticination  the  rehearsals  were  neverthe- 
less proceeded  with— the  brunt  of  the  quarrels  among 
the  players  falling  wholly  on  Goldsmith,  for  the  manager 
seems  to  have  withdrawn  in  despair  ; while  all  the 
Johnson  confraternity  were  determined  to  do  what  they 
could  for  Goldsmith  on  the  opening  night.  That  was  the 
15th  of  March,  1773.  His  friends  invited  the  author  to 
dinner  as  a prelude  to  the  play  ; Dr.  Johnson  was  in  the 
chair ; there  was  plenty  of  gaiety.  But  this  means  of 
keeping  up  the  anxious  author’s  spirits  was  nrot  very  suc- 
cessful. Goldsmiths  mouth,  we  are  told  by  Reynolds, 



xvi.  ] 

became  so  parched  “ from  the  agitation  of  his  mind, 
that  he  was  unable  to  swallow  a single  mouthful.” 
Moreover,  he  could  not  face  the  ordeal  of  sitting  through 
the  play ; when  his  friends  left  the  tavern  and  betook 
then^selves  to  the  theatre,  he  went  away  by  himself ; 
and  was  subsequently  found  walking  in  St.  J ames's  Park. 
The  friend  who  discovered  him  there,  persuaded  him  that 
his  presence  in  the  theatre  might  be  useful  in  case  of 
an  emergency ; and  ultimately  got  him  to  accompany 
him  to  Co  vent  Garden.  When  Goldsmith  reached  the 
theatre,  the  fifth  act  had  been  begun. 

Oddly  enough,  the  first  thing  he  heard  on  entering  the 
stage  door  was  a hiss.  The  story  goes  that  the  poor 
author  was  dreadfully  frightened  ; and  that  in  answer  to 
a hurried  question,  Colman  exclaimed,  “ Psha  ! Doctor, 
don’t  be  afraid  of  a squib,  when  we  have  been  sitting 
these  two  hours  on  a barrel  of  gunpowder.”  If  this 
was  meant  as  a hoax,  it  was  a cruel  one  ; if  meant 
seriously,  it  was  untrue.  For  the  piece  had  turned  out 
a great  hit.  From  beginning  to  end  of  the  performance 
the  audience  wt  re  in  a roar  of  laughter ; and  the  single 
hiss  that  Goldsmith  unluckily  heard  was  so  markedly 
exceptional,  that  it  became  the  talk  of  the  town,  and 
was  variously  attributed  to  one  or  other  of  Goldsmith’s 
rivals.  Colman,  too,  suffered  at  the  har.ds  of  the  wits 
for  his  gloomy  and  falsified  predictions,;  and  had,  indeed, 
to  beg  Goldsmith  to  intercede  for  him.  It  is  a great  pity 
that  Boswell  was  not  in  London  at  this  time  ; for  the  n 
we  might  have  had  a description  of  the  supper  that 
naturally  would  follow  the  play,  and  of  Goldsmith’s 
demeanour  under  this  new  success.  Besides  the  gratifi- 
cation, moreover,  of  his  choice  of  mat  rials  being 




approved  by  the  public,  there  was  the  material  benefit 
accruing  to  him  from  the  three  “ author's  nights.” 
These  are  supposed  to  have  produced  nearly  five  hundred 
pounds — a substantial  sum  in  those  days. 

Boswell  did  not  come  to  London  till  the  second  of 
April  following  ; and  the  first  mention  we  find  of  Gold- 
smith is  in  connection  with  an  incident  which  has  its 
ludicrous  as  well  as  its  regrettable  aspect.  The  further 
success  of  She  Stoops  to  Conquer  was  not  likely  to  pro- 
pitiate the  wretched  hole-and-corner  cut-throats  that  in- 
fested the  journalism  of  that  day.  More  especially  was 
Kenrick  driven  mad  with  envy  ; and  so,  in  a letter  ad- 
dressed to  the  London  Packet , this  poor  creature  deter- 
mined once  more  to  set  aside  the  judgment  of  the  public, 
and  show  Dr.  Goldsmith  in  his  true  colours.  The 
letter  is  a wretched  production,  full  of  personalities 
only  fit  for  an  angry  washerwoman,  and  of  rancour 
without  point.  But  there  was  one  passage  in  it  that 
effectually  roused  Goldsmith’s  rage  ; for  here  the  J essamy 
Bride  was  introduced  as  “ the  lovely  H — k.”  The  letter 
was  anonymous  ; but  the  publisher  of  the  print,  a man 
called  Evans,  was  known  ; and  so  Goldsmith  thought 
he  would  go  and  give  Evans  a beating.  If  he  had 
asked  Johnson’s  advice  about  the  matter,  he  would  no 
doubt  have  been  told  to  pay  no  heed  at  all  to  anonymous 
scurrility — certainly  not  to  attempt  to  reply  to  it  with 
a cudgel.  When  Johnsor  heard  that  Foote  meant  to 
“ take  him  off,”  he  turned  to  Davies  and  asked  him  what 
was  the  common  price  of  an  oak  stick  ; but  an  oak  stick 
in  Johnson’s  hands,  and  an  oak  stick  in  Goldsmith’s 
hands  were  two  different  things.  However,  to  the  book- 
seller’s shop  the  indignant  poet  proceeded,  in  company 




with  a friend  ; got  hold  of  Evans ; accused  him  of  hav- 
ing insulted  a young  lady  by  putting  her  name  in  his 
paper ; and,  when  the  publisher  would  fain  have  shifted 
the  responsibility  on  to  the  editor,  forthwith  denounced 
him  as  a rascal,  and  hit  him  over  the  back  with  his  cane. 
The  publisher,  however,  was  quite  a match  for  Gold- 
smith ; and  there  is  no  saying  how  the  deadly  combat 
might  have  ended,  had  not  a lamp  been  broken  overhead, 
the  oil  of  which  drenched  both  the  warriors.  This  in- 
tervention of  the  superior  gods  was  just  as  successful  as 
a Homeric  cloud  ; the  fray  ceased ; Goldsmith  and  his 
friend  withdrew ; and  ultimately  an  action  for  assault 
was  compromised  by  Goldsmith’s  paying  fifty  pounds  to 
a charity.  Then  the  howl  of  the  journals  arose.  Their 
prerogative  had  been  assailed.  “ Attacks  upon  private 
character  were  the  most  liberal  existing  source  of  news- 
paper income,”  Mr.  Forster  writes ; and  so  the  pack 
turned  with  one  cry  on  the  unlucky  poet.  There  was 
nothing 4 of  “ the  Monument”  about  poor  Goldsmith; 
and  at  last  he  was  worried  into  writing  a letter  of  de 
fencj  addressed  to  the  public.  “ He  has  indeed  done  it 
very  well,”  said  Johnson  to  Boswell,  “ but  it  is  a foolish 
thing  well  done.”  And  further  he  remarked,  “ Why, 
sir,  I believe  it  is  the  first  time  he  has  beat ; he  may  have 
been  beaten  before.  This,  sir,  is  a new  plume  to  aim.” 



The  pecuniary  success  of  She  Stoops  to  Conquer  did 
but  little  to  relieve  Goldsmith  from  those  financial 
embarrassments  which  were  now  weighing  heavily  on  his 
mind.  And  now  he  had  less  of  the  old  high  spirits  that 
had  enabled  him  to  laugh  off  the  cares  of  debt.  His 
health  became  disordered  ; an  old  disease  renewed  its 
attacks,  and  was  grown  more  violent  because  of  his 
long-continued  sedentary  habits.  Indeed,  from  this 
point  to  the  day  of  his  death — not  a long  interval, 
either— we  find  little  but  a record  of  successive  en- 
deavours, some  of  them  wild  and  hopeless  enough,  to 
obtain  money  anyhow.  Of  course  he  went  to  the  Club, 
us  usual  ; and  gave  dinner-parties ; and  had  a laugh  or 
a song  ready  for  the  occasion.  It  is  possible,  also,  to 
trace  a certain  growth  of  confidence  in  himself,  no 
doubt  the  result  of  the  repeated  proofs  of  his  genius 
he  had  put  before  his  friends.  It  was  something  more 
than  mere  personal  intimacy  that  justified  the  rebuke 
he  administered  to  Reynolds,  when  the  latter  painted  an 
allegorical  picture  representing  the  triumph  of  Beattie 
and  Truth  over  Voltaire  and  Scepticism.  “ It  very  ill 

cii.  xvii.]  INCREASING  DIFFICULTIES.— THE  END.  151 

becomes  a man  of  your  eminence  and  character/’  he 
said,  “ to  debase  so  high  a genius  as  Voltaire  before  so 
mean  a writer  as  Beattie.  Beattie  and  his  book  will  be 
forgotten  in  ten  years,  while  Voltaire’s  fame  will  last 
for  ever.  Take  care  it  does  not  perpetuate  this  picture, 
to  the  shame  of  such  a man  as  you.”  He  was  aware, 
too,  of  the  position  he  had  won  for  himself  in  English 
literature  He  knew  that  people  in  after-days  would 
ask  about  him  ; and  it  was  with  no  sort  of  unwarrant- 
able vainglory  that  he  gave  Percy  certain  materials  for 
a biography  which  he  wished  him  to  undertake.  Hence 
the  Percy  Memoir . 

He  was  only  forty-five  when  he  made  this  request ; 
and  he  had  not  suffered  much  from  illness  during  his 
life ; so  that  there  was  apparently  no  grounds  for 
imagining  that  the  end  was  near.  But  at  this  time 
Goldsmith  began  to  suffer  severe  fits  of  depression  ; and 
he  grew  irritable  and  capricious  of  temper— no  doubt 
another  result  of  failing  health.  He  was  embroiled  in 
disputes  with  the  booksellers  ; and,  on  one  occasion, 
seems  to  have  been  much  hurt  because  Johnson,  who 
had  been  asked  to  step  in  as  arbiter,  decided  against 
him.  He  was  offended  with  Johnson  on  another  occa- 
sion because  of  his  sending  away  certain  dishes  at  a 
dinner  given  to  him  by  Goldsmith,  as  a hint  that  these 
entertainments  were  too  luxurious  for  one  in  Goldsmith’s 
position.  It  was  probably  owing  to  some  temporary 
feeling  of  this  sort  —perhaps  to  some  expression  of  it  on 
Goldsmith’s  part — that  Johnson  spoke  of  Goldsmith’s 
“ malice  ” towards  him.  Mrs.  Thrale  had  suggested  that 
Goldsmith  would  be  the  best  person  to  write  Johnson’s 
biography.  “ The  dog  would  write  it  best,  to  be  sure,’ 




said  Johnson,  “ but  his  particular  malice  towards  me, 
and  general  disregard  of  truth,  would  make  the  book 
useless  to  all  and  injurious  to  my  character.”  Of  course 
it  is  always  impossible  to  say  what  measure  of  jocular 
exaggeration  there  may  not  be  in  a chance  phrase  such 
as  this  : of  the  fact  that  there  was  no  serious  or  perma- 
nent quarrel  between  the  two  friends  we  have  abundant 
proof  in  Boswell’s  faithful  pages. 

To  return  to  the  various  endeavours  made  by  Gold- 
smith and  his  friends  to  meet  the  difficulties  now 
closing  in  around  him,  we  find,  first  of  all,  the  familiar 
hack-work.  For  two  volumes  of  a History  of  Greece 
he  had  received  from  Griffin  £250.  Then  his  friends 
tried  to  get  him  a pension  from  the  Government ; but 
this  was  definit3ly  refused.  An  expedient  of  his  own 
seemed  to  promise  wTell  at  first.  He  thought  of  bringing 
out  a Popular  Dictionary  of  Arts  and  Sciences , a series 
of  contributions  mostly  by  his  friends,  with  himself  as 
editor  ; and  among  those  who  offered  to  assist  him  were 
Johnson,  Reynolds,  Burke,  and  Dr.  Burney.  But  the 
booksellers  were  afraid.  The  project  would  involve  a 
large  expense  ; and  they  had  no  high  opinion  of  Gold 
smith’s  business  habits.  Then  he  offered  to  alter  Tlie 
Good-natured  Man  for  Garrick  ; but  Garrick  preferred 
to  treat  with  him  for  a new  comedy,  and  generously 
allowed  him  to  draw  on  him  for  the  money  in  advance. 
This  last  h?lp  enabled  him  to  go  to  Barton  for  a brief 
holiday  ; but  the  relief  was  only  temporary.  On  his 
return  to  London  even  his  nearest  friends  began  to 
observe  the  change  in  his  manner.  In  the  old  days 
Goldsmith  had  faced  pecuniary  difficulties  with  a light 
heart ; bat  now,  his  health  broken,  and  every  avenue 



of  escape  apparently  closed,  he  was  giving  way  to  despair. 
His  friend  Cradock,  coming  up  to  town,  found  Goldsmith 
in  a most  despondent  condition  ; and  also  hints  that 
the  unhappy  author  was  trying  to  conceal  the  true  state 
of  affairs.  “ I believe/’  says  Cradock,  “ he  died  miser- 
able, and  that  his  friends  were  not  entirely  aware  of 
his  distress.” 

And  yet  it  was  during  this  closing  period  of  anxiety, 
despondency,  and  gloomy  foreboding,  that  the  brilliant 
and  humorous  lines  of  Retaliation  were  written — that 
last  scintillation  of  the  bright  and  happy  genius  that 
was  soon  to  be  extinguished  for  ever.  The  most  varied 
accounts  have  been  given  of  the  origin  of  this  jeu 
d’ esprit  ; and  even  Garrick’s,  which  was  meant  to  super- 
sede and  correct  all  others,  is  self  contradictory.  For 
according  to  this  version  of  the  story,  which  was  found 
among  the  Garrick  papers,  and  which  is  printed  in 
Mr.  Cunningham’s  edition  of  Goldsmith’s  works,  the 
whole  thing  arose  out  of  Goldsmith  and  Garrick  resolv- 
ing one  evening  at  the  St.  James’s  Coffee  House  to  write 
each  other’s  epitaph  Garrick’s  well-known  couplet  was 
instantly  produced  : 

“ Here  lies  Nolly  Goldsmith,  for  shortness  called  Noll, 

Who  wrote  like  an  angel,  but  talked  like  poor  Poll.” 

Goldsmith,  according  to  Garrick,  either  would  not  or 
could  not  retort  at  the  moment ; “ but  went  to  work, 
and  some  weeks  after  produced  the  following  printed 
poem,  called  Retaliation .”  But  Garrick  himself  goes  on 
to  say,  “ The  following  poems  in  manuscript  were  written 
by  several  of  the  gentlemen  on  purpose  to  provoke  the 




Doctor  to  an  answer,  which  came  forth  at  last  with  great 
credit  to  him  in  Retaliation .”  The  most  probable 
version  of  the  story,  which  may  be  pieced  together  from 
various  sources,  is  that  at  the  coffee  house  named  this 
business  of  writing  comic  epitaphs  was  started  some 
evening  or  other  by  the  whole  company ; that  Goldsmith 
and  Garrick  pitted  themselves  against  each  other  ; that 
thereafter  Goldsmith  began  as  occasion  served  to  write 
similar  squibs  about  his  friends,  which  were  shown 
about  as  they  were  written  ; that  thereupon  those 
gentlemen,  not  to  be  behindhand,  composed  more 
elaborate  pieces  in  proof  of  their  wit : and  that,  finally, 
Goldsmith  resolved  to  bind  these  fugitive  lines  of  his 
together  in  a poem,  which  he  left  unfinished,  and  which, 
under  the  name  of  Retaliation , was  published  after  his 
death.  This  hypothetical  account  receives  some  con- 
firmation from  the  fact  that  the  scheme  of  the  poem  and 
its  component  parts  do  not  fit  together  well ; the  intro- 
duction looks  like  an  after  thought ; and  has  not  the 
freedom  and  pungency  of  a piece  of  improvisation.  An 
imaginary  dinner  is  described,  the  guests  being  Garrick, 
Reynolds,  Burke,  Cumberland,  and  the  rest  of  them, 
Goldsmith  last  of  all.  More  wine  is  called  for,  until 
tiie  whole  of  his  companions  have  fallen  beneath  the 
table  : 

u Then,  with  chaos  and  blunders  encircling  my  head, 

Let  me  ponder,  and  tell  what  I think  of  the  dead .” 

This  is  a somewhat  clumsy  excuse  for  introducing  a 
series  of  epitaphs ; but  the  epitaphs  amply  atone  for  it. 
That  on  Garrick  is  especially  remarkable  as  a bit  of 



character-sketching;  its  shrewd  hints — all  in  perfect 
courtesy  and  good  humour — going  a little  nearer  to  the 
truth  than  is  common  in  epitaphs  of  any  sort : — 

“ Here  lies  David  Garrick,  describe  me  who  can  ; 

An  abridgment  of  all  that  was  pleasant  in  man. 

As  an  actor,  confessed  without  rival  to  shine  : 

As  a wit,  if  not  first,  in  the  very  first  line  : 

Yet,  with  talents  like  these,  and  an  excellent  heart, 

The  man  had  his  failings,  a dupe  to  his  art. 

Like  an  ill-judging  beauty,  his  colours  he  spread, 

And  beplastered  with  rouge  his  own  natural  red. 

On  the  stage  he  was  natural,  simple,  affecting ; 

’Twas  only  that,  when  he  was  off,  he  was  acting. 

With  no  reason  on  earth  to  go  out  of  his  way, 

He  turned  and  he  varied  full  ten  times  a day  : 

Though  secure  of  our  hearts,  yet  confoundedly  sick 
If  they  were  not  his  own  by  finessing  and  trick  ; 

He  cast  off  his  friends,  as  a huntsman  his  pack, 

For  he  knew  when  he  pleased  he  could  whistle  them  back. 
Of  praise  a mere  glutton,  he  swallowed  what  came  ; 

And  the  puff  of  a dunce,  he  mistook  it  for  fame  ; 

Till  his  relish  grown  callous,  almost  to  disease, 

Who  peppered  the  highest  was  surest  to  please. 

But  let  us  be  candid,  and  speak  out  our  mind  : 

If  dunces  applauded,  he  paid  them  in  kind. 

Ye  Kenricks,  ye  Kellys,  and  Woodfalls  so  grave, 

What  a commerce  was  yours,  while  you  got  and  you  gave\ 
How  did  Grub  Street  re-echo  the  shouts  that  you  raised, 
While  he  was  be-Rosciused,  and  you  were  bepraised. 

But  peace  to  his  spirit,  wherever  it  flies, 

To  act  as  an  angel  and  mix  with  the  skies  : 

Those  poets  who  owe  their  best  fame  to  his  skill 
Shall  still  be  his  flatterers,  go  where  he  will ; 

Old  Shakespeare  receive  him  with  praise  and  with  love, 
And  Beaumonts  and  Bens  be  his  Kellys  above.” 




The  truth  is  that  Goldsmith,  though  he  was  ready  to 
bless  his  “ honest  little  man  ” when  he  received  from 
him  sixty  pounds  in  advance  for  a comedy  not  begun, 
never  took  quite  so  kindly  to  Garrick  as  to  some  of  his 
other  friends.  There  is  no  pretence  of  discrimination 
at  all,  for  example,  in  the  lines  devoted  in  this  poem  to 
Eeynolds.  All  the  generous  enthusiasm  of  Goldsmith’s 
Irish  nature  appears  here ; he  will  admit  of  no  possible 
rival  to  this  especial  friend  of  his  : — 

“ Here  Reynolds  is  laid,  and  to  tell  you  my  mind, 

He  has  not  left  a wiser  or  better  behind.” 

There  is  a tradition  that  the  epitaph  on  Eeynolds, 
ending  with  the  unfinished  line 

“ By  flattery  unspoiled  0 0 0 ” 

was  Goldsmith’s  last  piece  of  writing.  One  would  like 
to  believe  that,  in  any  case. 

Goldsmith  had  returned  to  his  Edgware  lodgings,  and 
had,  indeed,  formed  some  notion  of  selling  his  chambers 
in  the  Temple,  and  living  in  the  country  for  at  least  ten 
months  in  the  year,  when  a sudden  attack  of  his  old 
disorder  drove  him  into  town  again  for  medical  advice. 
He  would  appear  to  have  received  some  relief ; but  a 
nervous  fever  followed  ; and  on  the  night  of  the  25th 
March,  1774,  when  he  was  but  forty-six  years  of  age, 
he  took  to  his  bed  for  the  last  time.  At  first  he  refused 
to  regard  his  illness  as  serious  ; and  insisted  on  dosing 
himself  with  certain  fever- powders  from  which  he  had 
received  benefit  on  previous  occasions  ; but  by  and  by 
as  his  strength  gave  way,  he  submitted  to  the  advice  of 
the  physicians  who  were  in  attendance  on  him.  Day 



after  day  passed  ; his  weakness  visibly  increasing, 
though,  curiously  enough,  the  symptoms  of  fever  were 
gradually  abating.  At  length  one  of  the  doctors,  re- 
marking to  him  that  his  pulse  was  in  greater  disorder 
than  it  should  be  from  the  degree  of  fever,  asked  him 
if  his  mind  was  at  ease.  “No,  it  is  not,”  answered 
Goldsmith;  and  these  were  his  last  words.  Early  in 
the  morning  of  Monday,  April  4,  convulsions  set  in  ; 
these  continued  for  rather  more  than  an  hour  ; then  the 
troubled  brain  and  the  sick  heart  found  rest  for  ever. 

When  the  news  was  carried  to  his  friends,  Burke,  it 
is  said,  burst  into  tears,  and  Reynolds  put  aside  his 
work  for  the  day.  But  it  does  not  appear  that  they 
had  visited  him  during  his  illness  ; and  neither  Johnson, 
nor  Reynolds,  nor  Burke,  nor  Garrick  followed  his  body 
to  the  grave.  It  is  true,  a public  funeral  was  talked  of ; 
and,  among  others,  Reynolds,  Burke,  and  Garrick  were 
to  have  carried  the  pall ; but  this  was  abandoned ; and 
Goldsmith  was  privately  buried  in  the  ground  of  the 
Temple  Church  on  the  9th  of  April,  1774.  Strangely 
enough,  too,  Johnson  seems  to  have  omitted  all  mention 
of  Goldsmith  from  his  letters  to  Boswell.  It  was  not 
until  Boswell  had  written  to  him  on  June  24th,  “ You 
have  said  nothing  to  me  about  poor  Goldsmith,”  that 
Johnson,  writing  on  July  4,  answered  as  follows  : — 
“Of  poor  dear  Dr.  Goldsmith  there  is  little  to  be 
told,  more  than  the  papers  have  made  public.  He  died 
of  a fever,  made,  I am  afraid,  more  violent  by  un- 
easiness of  mind.  His  debts  began  to  be  heavy,  and  all 
his  resources  were  exhausted.  Sir  Joshua  is  of  opinion 
that  he  owed  not  less  than  two  thousand  pounds.  Was 
ever  poet  so  trusted  before  ? ” 




But  if  the  greatest  grief  at  the  sudden  and  premature 
death  of  Goldsmith  would  seem  to  have  been  shown 
at  the  moment  by  certain  wretched  creatures  who  were 
found  weeping  on  the  stairs  leading  to  his  chambers,  it 
must  not  be  supposed  that  his  fine  friends  either  forgot 
him,  or  ceased  to  regard  his  memory  wfith  a great 
gentleness  and  kindness.  Some  two  years  after,  when 
a monument  was  about  to  be  erected  to  Goldsmith  in 
Westminster  Abbey,  Johnson  consented  to  write  “the 
poor  dear  Doctor’s  epitaph  and  so  anxious  were  the 
members  of  that  famous  circle  in  which  Goldsmith 
had  figured,  that  a just  tribute  should  be  paid  to  his 
genius,  that  they  even  ventured  to  send  a round  robin 
to  the  great  Cham  desiring  him  to  amend  his  first 
draft.  Now,  perhaps,  we  have  less  interest  in  John- 
son’s estimate  of  Goldsmith’s  genius — though  it  con- 
tains the  famous  Nullum  quod  tetigit  non  ornavit — 
than  in  the  phrases  which  tell  of  the  honour  paid  to 
the  memory  of  the  dead  poet  by  the  love  of  his  com- 
panions and  the  faithfulness  of  his  friends  It  may 
here  be  added  that  the  precise  spot  where  Goldsmith  was 
buried  in  the  Temple  churchyard  is  unknown.  So  lived 
and  so  died  Oliver  Goldsmith. 

In  the  foregoing  pages  the  writings  of  Goldsmith 
have  been  given  so  prominent  a place  in  the  history 
of  his  life  that  it  is  unnecessary  to  take  them  here 
collectively  and  endeavour  to  sum  up  their  distinc  • 
tive  qualitres  As  much  as  could  be  said  within  the 
limited  space  has,  it  is  hoped,  been  said  about  their 
genuine  and  tender  pathos,  that  never  at  any  time 


verges  on  the  affected  or  theatrical  ; about  their  quaint 
delicate,  delightful  humour;  about  that  broader  humour 
that  is  not  afraid  to  provoke  the  wholesome  laughter  of 
mankind  by  dealing  with  common  and  familirr  ways, 
and  manners,  and  men  ; about  that  choiceness  of  diction, 
that  lightness  and  grace  of  touch,  that  lend  a charm 
even  to  Goldsmith’s  ordinary  hack-work. 

Still  less  necessary,  perhaps,  is  it  to  review  the  facts 
and  circumstances  of  Goldsmith’s  life ; and  to  make  of 
them  an  example,  a warning,  or  an  accusation.  That  has 
too  often  been  done.  His  name  has  been  used  to  glorify 
a sham  Bohemianism — a Bohemianism  that  finds  it  easy 
to  live  in  taverns,  but  does  not  find  it  easy,  so  far  as 
one  sees,  to  write  poems  like  the  Deserted  Village.  Bis 
experiences  as  an  author  h .ve  been  brought  forward  to 
swell  the  cry  about  neglected  genius — that  is,  by  writers 
who  assume  their  genius  in  order  to  prove  the  neglect. 
The  misery  that  occasionally  befell  him  during  his  way- 
ward career  has  been  made  the  basis  of  an  accusation 
against  society,  the  English  constitution,  Christianity — 
Heaven  knows  what.  It  is  time  to  have  done  with  all 
this  nonsense.  Goldsmith  resorted  to  the  hack-work  of 
literature  when  everything  else  had  failed  him ; and  he 
was  fairly  paid  for  it.  When  he  did  better  work,  when 
he  “ struck  for  honest  fame,”  the  nation  gave  him  all 
the  honour  that  he  could  have  desired  With  an  assured 
reputation,  and  with  ample  means  of  subsistence,  he 
obtained  entrance  into  the  most  distinguished  society 
then  in  England — he  was  made  the  friend  of  England’s 
greatest  in  the  arts  and  literature  — and  could  have 
confined  himself  to  that  society  exclusively  if  he  had 
chosen.  His  temperament,  no  doubt,  exposed  him  to 



[CH.  XVII. 

suffering ; and  the  exquisite  sensitiveness  of  a man  of 
genius  may  demand  our  sympathy ; but  in  far  greater 
measure  is  our  sympathy  demanded  for  the  thousands 
upon  thousands  of  people  who,  from  illness  or  nervous 
excitability,  suffer  from  quite  as  keen  a sensitiveness 
without  the  consolation  of  the  fame  that  genius  brings. 

In  plain  truth.  Goldsmith  himself  would  have  been 
the  last  to  put  forward  pleas  humiliating  alike  to  himself 
and  to  his  calling.  Instead  of  beseeching  the  State  to 
look  after  authors  ; instead  of  imploring  society  to  grant 
them  “ recognition  instead  of  saying  of  himself  “ he 
wrote,  and  paid  the  penalty  ; ” he  would  frankly  have 
admitted  that  he  chose  to  live  his  life  his  own  way,  and 
therefore  paid  the  penalty.  This  is  not  written  with 
any  desire  of  upbraiding  Goldsmith.  He  did  choose  to 
live  his  own  life  his  own  way,  and  we  now  have  the 
splendid  and  beautiful  results  of  his  work ; and  the 
world — looking  at  these  with  a constant  admiration,  and 
with  a great  and  lenient  love  for  their  author — is  not 
anxious  to  know  what  he  did  with  his  guineas,  or 
whether  the  milkman  was  ever  paid.  “ He  had  raised 
money  and  squandered  it,  by  every  artifice  of  acquisition 
and  folly  of  expense.  But  let  not  his  frailties  be 


Johnson’s  wise  summing  up  ; and  with  it  we  may  here 
take  leave  of  gentle  Goldsmith. 



Addison,  21 
Akenside,  75 
Albinus,  17,  23 
Armstrong,  75 

Auchinleck  (Boswell’s  father), 


Bally  mahon,  16,  17 
Bath,  61,  137 

Beauclerk,  Topham,  68,  110, 

Bee , the  (weekly  magazine), 
38 ; Goldsmith’s  contribu- 
tions to,  40,  41,  42,  43,  48, 
49,  138 
Bentley,  115 

Boswell,  19,  45,  47,  68,  69,  70, 
71,  73,  74,  79,  100,  103,  117, 
118,  137,  152,  157 
Bott,  Mr.,  113 
British  Magazine , the , 44,  45 
Burke,  Mr.,  21,  44,  68,  98, 
99,  110,  111,  116;  132,  134, 
140,  152,  154,  157 
Burney,  Dr.,  152 


Camden,  Lord,  137 
Churchill,  76 

Citizen  of  the  World , the , 29 ; 

quotation  from,  51-55 
City  Night  Piece , the , quota- 
tion from,  42,  43 
Clare,  Lord,  137,  138,  139,  140 
Colman,  George,  102,  132,  142, 
145,  146,  147 

Contarine  (Goldsmith’s  uncle), 
12,  13,  16,  17,  132 

Cooke,  Mr.,  112 
Cork,  16 

Coromandel,  coast  of,  31,  32 
Cradock,  153 

Critical  Review , the,  32,  33 ; 

criticism  of,  36,  37,  75 
Croker,  Mr.,  47 
Cumberland,  Mr.,  154 
Cunningham,  Mr.,  73 


Davies,  Tom,  69,  70,  114,  121, 

Deserted  Village , the , 7,  77 ; 
quotation  from,  112  ; public- 
ation of,  1770,  114,  116, 122, 
131,  132,  159 

Douglas  (Hone’s)  Goldsmith’s 
criticism  of,  29 

Dromore,  Bishop  of  (Mr. 

Percy),  44 
Dublin,  12,  17 


Edinburgh,  17,  26 
Edwin  and  Angelina , ballad  of, 
quotation  from,  84,  85 
Elphin,  Bishop  of,  16 
England,  35,  69,  78,  93,  127, 

Enquiries  concerning  the  first 
Inhabitants , Language , Re- 
ligion, Learning , and  Letters 
of  Europe,  Some,  30 
Enquiry  into  the  Origin  of  our 
Ideas  of  the  Sublime  and 
Beautiful , the,  44 
Enquiry  into  the  Present  State 
of  Polite  Learning  in  Europe , 
the,  31 ; publication  of , 1759, 
33  ; severely  criticised,  37 




Essay  on  Man , allusion  to,  79, 

Europe,  19,  20,  38,  61 


Featherston,  Squire,  12 
Fleming,  Mrs.,  67,  72 
Forster,  Mr.,  2,  3,  18,  27,  32, 
45,  47,  59,  98 
Fox,  Charles,  79 
France,  46 


Garrick,  David,  101,  152,  153, 
154,  155,  157 
Gaubius,  18,  23 
Glasgow,  71 

Goethe,  his  opinion  of  Vicar 
of  Wakefield , 93 
Goldsmith,  Rev.  Charles  (Oli- 
ver’s father),  7 ; death  of,  13 
Goldsmith,  Henry,  61,  76,  125 
Goldsmith,  Maurice,  132 
Goldsmith,  Oliver,  1-6 
Birth  of,  7,  8 ; school 

days,  9-11;  sent  to  college 
as  a sizar,  12 ; went  to  Dub- 
lin, 12 ; entered  Trinity 
College,  12 ; death  of  his 
father,  13  ; pecuniary  dif- 
ficulties, 13  ; gains  an  Ex- 
hibition, 13  ; runs  away 
from  college,  13  ; returns, 
13-14  ; takes  degree,  14  ; 
fails  to  enter  Church,  16  ; 
obtains  a tutorship,  16 ; 
legal  profession,  17  ; medi- 
cine, 18-21 ; London,  1756, 
22,  24 ; usher,  25,  26 ; 
hack  work  ,27-31;  q uarrels 
with  Griffiths,  30 ; in- 
stalled as  usher  once  more 
at  Peckham,  31 ; begins 
career  as  author,  1759, 
33-39  ; editor  of  The  Bee , 
40,  41  ; writings,  42-49 ; 

Goldsmith,  Oliver  [cont. ) — 
goes  to  France  with  Mrs. 
Horneck,  47  ; weekly 
letters  to  Public  Ledger , 
50-55  ; extract,  55-60  ; in- 
different health,  61 ; goes 
to  Tunbridge  and  thence 
to  Bath,  61 ; publishes 
Beau  Nash,  61 ; Bath.  Life 
of  Nash,  61-66 ; returns  to 
London,  67;  takes  lodgings 
in  Islington,  67 ; works 
for  Newbery,  67 ; threat 
of  arrest,  71-72;  novel, 
1766,  73 ; poem,  75-79  ; 
incident,  80,  82  ; interview 
with  Earl  of  Northum- 
berland, 80  ; letter  to 
“Mr.  Posterity,”  83; 
criticisms,  84 ; publishes 
ballad  of  Edwin  and 
Angelina,  84 ; resorts  to 
hack  work,  86 ; moves 
into  Garden  Court,  86 ; 
publishes  Vicar  of  Wake- 
field, 1766,  86  ; his  services 
as  a writer  solicited  by 
Government,  102 ; inter- 
view with  Mr.  Scott, 
102 ; production  of  Good- 
natured  Alan  at  Covent 
Garden,  102 : attends  first 
night,  106 ; anxiety  and 
excitement,  106,  107;  pur- 
chases and  decorates  set 
of  chambers  in  Brick 
Court,  109 ; entertertain- 
ments,  109,  110;  letter  to 
brother,  132  ; Continental 
tour,  134-136 ; London, 
137,  138,  141  143,  145; 
comedy,  1773,  146-149;  ill- 
health,  150 ; gives  Percy 
materials  for  Memoir,  151, 

152  ; story  re  Retaliation , 

153  ; illness,  156  ; death, 
157,  158  ; review  of  works, 
159  ; of  life,  160 



Goldsmith,  Oliver  ( cont .) — 
Suffers  from  want  of  self- 
confidence,  11  ; nervous 
and  sensitive,  46 ; adopts 
appearance  of  ease  and 
swagger,  46 ; envious  dis- 
position, 47  ; humour,  48  ; 
his  sensitiveness,  115; 
wounded  by  critics,  114- 
115;  depressed,  151 
Good-natured  Man,  the,  5,  100  ; 
Johnson  writes  Prologue 
for,  102  ; produced  at  Covent 
Garden  Theatre,  1768,  102, 
103;  quotation  from,  103- 
106,  107,  109,  110,  142,  143, 

Gray  (poet),  75 
Griffin,  20,  107,  141,  152 
Griffin  and  Newbery,  82 
Griffiths,  Mr.,  26-28,  30,  32, 
33,  37,  55 


Haunch  of  Venison,  138 ; quo- 
tation from,  139-140 
Hawkins,  Sir  John,  47,  68,  71, 

History  of  Animated  Nature, 
the,  120,  121,  141 
History  of  England  from  the 
Birth  of  the  British  Empire, 

121,  141 

History  of  Greece,  a,  152 
History  of  Rome,  the,  113 
Hodson,  Mr.,  8,  31 
Hodson,  Mrs.,  125 
Hogarth,  68,  111 
Holland,  21 
Horneck,  Captain,  134 
Horneck,  Miss  (“  Little 

Comedy  the  elder,  135, 137 

Horneck,  Miss  (“  The  Jessamy 
Bride”),  135,  137,  148 
Horneck,  Mrs.  46,  134,  135 

Hornecks,  the  Misses,  47 


Ireland,  7,  17,  18,  21,61 
Islington,  67,  72 


Johnson,  Dr.,  21,  25,  30,  44, 
45,  47,  59;  61,  68,  69,  70-76, 
78,  79,  81,99,  100,  101,  103, 
107,  110,  111,  114-120,  123, 
132,  138,  140,  142,  146.  148, 
149,  151,  157,  160 


Kelly,  Mr.,  Goldsmith’s  letter 
to,  110 

Kenrick,  Mr.,  37 


Langton,  Bennet,  68,  79 
Leyden,  17,  18,  19 
Life  of  Richard  Nash,  Esq., 
The,  anonymous  publication 
of,  1762,  61-66,  68 
Life  of  Thomas  Parnell,  A, 
Goldsmith  undertakes  to 
write,  121 
Lille,  47,  136 
Lissoy,  7,  8,  13,  124,  125 
Longford,  7 
Louvain,  21 


Macaulay,  Lord.  7,  28,  114, 

Memoir  of  Goldsmith,  allusion 
to  Professor  Masson’s.  54 
Milner,  Dr.  25-27,  31,  32 
Milner,  Mrs.,  26 
Monthly  Review,  the,  29,  32 ; 
criticism  of,  36,  37,  50,  98, 




Newbery,  Mr.,  50,  61,  67,  75, 
86,  141 

Newbery,  Mr.  Francis,  50,  73, 
74,  86,  99 

Northumberland,  Earl  of, 
Goldsmith’s  interview  with, 
80,  102 

Nugent,  Dr.,  68,  110 


Pallas  (or  Pallasmore),  Gold- 
smith born  at,  1728,  7 
Paris,  136 

Peckham,  Goldsmith’s  life  at, 
25,  26,  27,  30,  31 
Percy  Memoir , the,  151 
Percy,  Mr.,  45,  59,  110,  151 
Piozzi,  Mrs.,  71,  73 
Pope,  allusion  to,  76,  79,  122 
Public  Ledger , the,  45,  50 ; 
quotations  from  Goldsmith’s 
contributions  to,  56-59 


Retaliation , origin  of,  153 ; 
story  re,  154 ; quotation 
from,  155,  156 

Reynolds,  Sir  Joshua,  21,  68, 
79,  101,  111,  116;  returns 
compliment  for  dedication 
of  Deserted  Village,  131, 134, 
136,  137,  146,  150,  152,  154, 
156,  157 

Riccoboni,  Madam,  criticism  on 
Vicar  of  Wakefield,  98 

Roman  History , the,  121,  122 


Scotland,  68,  70 
Scott,  Mr. , interview  with 
Goldsmith,  102 
Scott,  Sir  Walter,  124 

She  Stoops  to  Conquer  (comedy), 
11,  12,  103,  142;  produced 
at  Covent  Garden  Theatre, 
March,*  1773,  146;  quotation 
from,  143-145 ; success  of, 
147,  148 

“ Shoemaker’s  Holiday,  A,” 
description  of,  112,  113 
Smollett,  37,  44 


Thackeray,  Mr.,  1,  16 

Traveller,  the  (poem),  61,  68; 
publication  of,  1764,  74,  75  ; 
quotations  from  and  review 
of,  76-79,  80,  109,  110,  116, 
122,  123 

Trinity  College  (Dublin), 
Goldsmith  at,  12-14 

Tunbridge,  61 


Vicar  of  Wakefield,  the,  19,  55, 
61,  68;  manuscript  sold  to 
Newbery,  73,  74,  84 ; pub- 
lication of,  1766,  86 ; review 
of  and  quotations  from,  87- 
99,  109,  110,  116 


Walpole,  Horace,  his  descrip- 
tion of  Goldsmith,  46,  145, 

Westmeath,  7 

Wilkie,  Mr.,  founder  of  The 
Bee,  38,  40 

Williams,  Miss  (Johnson’s 
friend),  69 

Wine  Office  Court,  39 

Wise,  Mr.,  30 

Wordsworth,  128 


Young,  75 


Citgltef)  JHnt  of  iletters 







MACMILLAN  AND  CO.,  Limited 



A ll  rights  reserved 

First  printed  1880 
Reprinted  1881,  1885 
New  Issue  1888.  Reprinted  1898,  1904 




Early  Life 1 


At  Huntingdon — The  Unwins 22 


At  Olney — Mr.  Newton  . . * . . . 35 


Authorship— -The  Moral  Satires 48 


The  Task 61 


Short  Poems  and  Translations 82 


The  Letters 96 


Close  of  Life  122 







Cowper  is  the  most  important  English  poet  of  the  period 
between  Pope  and  the  illustrious  group  headed  by  Words- 
worth, Byron,  and  Shelley,  which  arose  out  of  the  in- 
tellectual ferment  of  the  European  Revolution.  As  a 
reformer  of  poetry,  who  called  it  back  from  conventionality 
to  nature,  and  at  the  same  time  as  the  teacher  of  a new 
school  of  sentiment  which  acted  as  a solvent  upon  the 
existing  moral  and  social  system,  he  may  perhaps  himself 
be  numbered  among  the  precursors  of  the  Revolution, 
though  he  was  certainly  the  mildest  of  them  all.  As  a 
sentimentalist  he  presents  a faint  analogy  to  Rousseau,- 
whom  in  natural  temperament  he  somewhat  resembled 
He  was  also  the  great  poet  of  the  religious  revival  which 
marked  the  latter  part  of  the  eighteenth  century  in 
England,  and  which  was  called  Evangelicism  within  the 
establishment  and  Methodism  without.  In  this  way  he 
is  associated  with  Wesley  and  Whitefield,  as  well  as  with 
the  philanthropists  of  the  movement,  such  as  Wilberforce, 
Thornton,  and  Clarkson.  As  a poet  he  touches,  on  dif- 





ferent  sides  of  his  character,  Goldsmith,  Crabhe,  and 
Bums.  With  Goldsmith  and  Crabhe  he  shares  the  honour 
of  improving  English  taste  in  the  sense  of  truthfulness 
and  simplicity.  To  Burns  he  felt  his  affinity,  across  a 
gulf  of  social  circumstance,  and  in  spite  of  a dialect  not 
yet  made  fashionable  by  Scott.  Besides  his  poetry,  he 
holds  a high,  perhaps  the  highest  place,  among  English 
letter  writers : and  the  collection  of  his  letters  appended 
to  Southey’s  biography  forms,  with  the  biographical  por- 
tions of  his  poetry,  the  materials  for  a sketch  of  his  life. 
Southey’s  biography  itself  is  very  helpful,  though  too 
prolix  and  too  much  filled  out  with  dissertations  for  com- 
mon readers.  Had  its  author  only  done  for  Cowper  what 
he  did  for  Kelson  ! 1 

William  Cowper  came  of  the  Whig  nobility  of  the  robe. 
His  great-uncle,  after  whom  he  was  named,  was  the  Whig 
Lord  Chancellor  of  Anne  and  George  I.  His  grandfather 
was  that  Spencer  Cowper,  judge  of  the  Common  Pleas, 
for  love  of  whom  the  pretty  Quakeress  drowned  herself, 
and  who,  by  the  rancour  of  party,  was  indicted  for  her 
murder.  His  father,  the  Rev.  John  Cowper,  D.D.,  was 
chaplain  to  George  II.  His  mother  was  a Donne,  of  the 
race  of  the  poet,  and  descended  by  several  lines  from 
Henry  III.  A Whig  and  a gentleman  he  was  by  birth,  a 
Whig  and  a gentleman  he  remained  to  the  end.  He  was 
born  on  the  15th  November  (old  style),  1731,  in  his  father’s 
rectory  of  Berkhampstead.  From  nature  he  received, 
with  a large  measure  of  the  gifts  of  genius,  a still  larger 
measure  of  its  painful  sensibilities.  In  his  portrait  by 
Romney  the  brow  bespeaks  intellect,  the  features  feeling 

1 Our  acknowledgments  are  also  due  to  Mr.  Benharn,  the  writer 
of  the  Memoir  prefixed  to  the  Globe  Edition  of  Cowper. 




and  refinement,  the  eye  madness.  The  stronger  parts  of 
character,  the  combative  and  propelling  forces  he  evidently 
lacked  from  the  beginning.  For  the  battle  of  life  he  was 
totally  unfit.  His  judgment  in  its  healthy  state  was, 
even  on  practical  questions,  sound  enough,  as  his  letters 
abundantly  prove ; but  his  sensibility  not  only  rendered 
him  incapable  of  wrestling  with  a rough  world,  hut  kept 
him  always  on  the  verge  of  madness,  and  frequently 
plunged  him  into  it.  To  the  malady  which  threw  him 
out  of  active  life  we  owe  not  the  meanest  of  English 

At  the  age  of  thirty-two,  writing  of  himself,  he  says,  “ I 
am  of  a very  singular  temper,  and  very  unlike  all  the 
men  that  I have  ever  conversed  with.  Certainly  I am 
not  an  absolute  fool,  hut  I have  more  weakness  than  the 
greatest  of  all  the  fools  I can  recollect  at  present.  In 
short,  if  I was  as  fit  for  the  next  world  as  I am  unfit  for 
this — and  God  forbid  I should  speak  it  in  vanity — I would 
not  change  conditions  with  any  saint  in  Christendom.” 
Folly  produces  nothing  good,  and  if  Cowper  had  been  an 
absolute  fool,  he  would  not  have  written  good  poetry. 
But  he  does  not  exaggerate  his  own  weakness,  and  that 
he  should  have  become  a power  among  men  is  a remark- 
able triumph  of  the  influences  which  have  given  birth  to 
Christian  civilization. 

The  world  into  which  the  child  came  was  one  very 
adverse  to  him,  and  at  the  same  time  very  much  in  need 
of  him.  It  was  a world  from  which  the  spirit  of  poetry 
seemed  to  have  fled.  There  could  he  no  stronger  proof  of 
this  than  the  occupation  of  the  throne  of  Spenser,  Shake- 
speare, and  Milton  by  the  arch-versifier  Pope.  The 
Revolution  of  1688  was  glorious,  but  unlike  the  Puritan 




Revolution  which  it  followed,  and  in  the  political  sphere 
partly  ratified,  it  was  profoundly  prosaic.  Spiritual  reli- 
gion, the  source  of  Puritan  grandeur  and  of  the  poetry  of 
Milton,  was  almost  extinct ; there  was  not  much  more  of 
it  among  the  Nonconformists,  who  had  now  become  to  a 
great  extent  mere  Whigs,  with  a decided  Unitarian  ten- 
dency. The  Church  was  little  better  than  a political 
force,  cultivated  and  manipulated  by  political  leaders  for 
their  own  purposes.  The  Bishops  were  either  politicians 
or  theological  polemics  collecting  trophies  of  victory  over 
free-thinkers  as  titles  to  higher  preferment.  The  inferior 
clergy  as  a body  were  far  nearer  in  character  toTrulliber  than 
to  Dr.  Primrose  ; coarse,  sordid,  neglectful  of  their  duties, 
shamelessly  addicted  to  sinecurism  and  pluralities,  fanatics 
in  their  Toryism  and  in  attachment  to  their  corporate 
privileges,  cold,  rationalistic  and  almost  heathen  in  their 
preachings,  if  they  preached  at  all.  The  society  of  the 
day  is  mirrored  in  the  pictures  of  Hogarth,  in  the  works 
of  Fielding  and  Smollett ; hard  and  heartless  polish  was 
the  best  of  it ; and  not  a little  of  it  was  Marriage  a la 
Mode . Chesterfield,  with  his  soulless  culture,  his  court 

graces,  and  his  fashionable  immoralities,  was  about  the 
highest  type  of  an  English  gentleman  ; but  the  Wilkeses, 
Potters,  and  Sandwiches,  whose  mania  for  vice  culminated 
in  the  Hell-fire  Club,  were  more  numerous  than  the  Ches- 
terfields. Among  the  country  squires,  for  one  Allworthy 
or  Sir  Roger  de  Coverley  there  were  many  Westerns. 
Among  the  common  people  religion  was  almost  extinct, 
and  assuredly  no  new  morality  • or  sentiment,  such  as 
Positivists  now  promise,  had  taken  its  place.  Sometimes 
the  rustic  thought  for  himself,  and  scepticism  took 
formal  possession  of  his  mind ; but,  as  we  see  from  one  of 




Cowper’s  letters,  it  was  a coarse  scepticism  which  desired 
to  be  buried  with  its  hounds.  Ignorance  and  brutality 
reigned  in  the  cottage.  Drunkenness  reigned  in  palace 
and  cottage  alike.  Gambling,  cockfighting,  and  bull- 
fighting were  the  amusements  of  the  people.  Political 
life,  which,  if  it  had  been  pure  and  vigorous,  might  have 
made  up  for  the  absence  of  spiritual  influences,  was  cor- 
rupt from  the  top  of  the  scale  to  the  bottom  : its  effect  on 
national  character  is  pour  tray  ed  in  Hogarth's  Election. 
That  property  had  its  duties  as  well  as  its  rights,  nobody  had 
yet  ventured  to  say  or  think.  The  duty  of  a gentleman 
towards  his  own  class  was  to  pay  his  debts  of  honour  and 
to  fight  a duel  whenever  he  was  challenged  by  one  of  his 
own  order ; towards  the  lower  class  his  duty  was  none. 
Though  the  forms  of  government  were  elective,  and  Cow- 
per  gives  us  a description  of  the  candidate  at  election 
time  obsequiously  soliciting  votes,  society  was  intensely 
aristocratic,  and  each  rank  was  divided  from  that  below 
it  by  a sharp  line  which  precluded  brotherhood  or  sym- 
pathy. Says  the  Duchess  of  Buckingham  to  Lady  Hun- 
tingdon, who  had  asked  her  to  come  and  hear  Whitefield, 
“ I thank  your  ladyship  for  the  information  concerning 
the  Methodist  preachers ; their  doctrines  are  most  re- 
pulsive, and  strongly  tinctured  with  disrespect  towards 
their  superiors,  in  perpetually  endeavouring  to  level  all 
ranks  and  do  away  with  all  distinctions.  It  is  monstrous 
to  be  told  you  have  a heart  as  sinful  as  the  common 
wretches  that  crawl  on  the  earth.  This  is  highly  offensive 
and  insulting  ; and  I cannot  but  wonder  that  your  lady- 
ship should  relish  any  sentiments  so  much  at  variance 
with  high  rank  and  good  breeding.  I shall  be  most 
happy  to  come  and  hear  your  favourite  preacher."  Her 




Grace’s  sentiments  towards  the  common  wretches  that 
crawl  on  the  earth  were  shared,  we  may  he  sure,  by  her 
Grace’s  waiting-maid.  Of  humanity  there  was  as  little  as 
there  was  of  religion.  It  was  the  age  of  the  criminal  law 
which  hanged  men  for  petty  thefts,  of  life-long  imprison- 
ment for  debt,  of  the  stocks  and  the  pillory,  of  a Temple 
Bar  garnished  with  the  heads  of  traitors,  of  the  unre- 
formed prison  system,  of  the  press-gang,  of  unrestrained 
tyranny  and  savagery  at  public  schools.  That  the  slave 
trade  was  iniquitous  hardly  any  one  suspected  ; even  men 
who  deemed  themselves  religious  took  part  in  it  without 
scruple.  But  a change  was  at  hand,  and  a still  mightier 
change  was  in  prospect.  At  the  time  of  Cowper’s  birth, 
John  Wesley  was  twenty-eight  and  Whitefield  was  seven- 
teen. With  them  the  revival  of  religion  was  at  hand. 
Johnson,  the  moral  reformer,  was  twenty-two.  Howard 
was  born,  and  in  less  than  a generation  Wilberforce  was 
to  come. 

When  Cowper  was  six  years  old  his  mother  died ; and 
seldom  has  a child,  even  such  a child,  lost  more,  even  in 
a mother.  Fifty  years  after  her  death  he  still  thinks  of 
her,  he  says,  with  love  and  tenderness  every  day.  Late 
in  his  life  his  cousin  Mrs.  Anne  Bodham  recalled  herself 
to  his  remembrance  by  sending  him  his  mother’s  picture. 
“ Every  creature,”  he  writes,  “ that  has  any  affinity  to 
my  mother  is  dear  to  me,  and  you,  the  daughter  of  her 
brother,  are  but  one  remove  distant  from  her ; I love  you 
therefore,  and  love  you  much,  both  for  her  sake  and  for 
your  own.  The  world  could  not  have  furnished  you  with 
a present  so  acceptable  to  me  as  the  picture  which  you 
have  so  kindly  sent  me.  I received  it  the  night  before 
last,  and  received  it  with  a trepidation  of  nerves  and 




spirits  somewhat  akin  to  what  I should  have  felt  had  its 
dear  original  presented  herself  to  my  embraces.  I kissed 
it  and  hung  it  where  it  is  the  last  object  which  I see  at 
night,  and  the  first  on  which  I open  my  eyes  in  the 
morning.  She  died  when  I completed  my  sixth  year ; yet 
I remember  her  well,  and  am  an  ocular  witness  of  the 
great  fidelity  of  the  copy.  I remember  too  a multitude 
of  the  maternal  tendernesses  which  I received  from  her, 
and  which  have  endeared  her  memory  to  me  beyond  ex- 
pression. There  is  in  me,  I believe,  more  of  the  Donne 
than  of  the  Cowper,  and  though  I love  all  of  both  names, 
and  have  a thousand  reasons  to  love  those  of  my  own 
name,  yet  I feel  the  bond  of  nature  draw  me  vehemently 
to  your  side.”  VAs  Cowper  never  married,  there  was 
nothing  to  take  the  place  in  his  heart  which  had  been 
left  vacant  by  his  mother. 

My  mother!  when  I learn’ d that  thou  wast  dead, 

Say,  wast  thou  conscious  of  the  tears  I shed  ? 

Hover’d  thy  spirit  o’er  thy  sorrowing  son, 

Wretch  even  then,  life's  journey  just  begun  ? 

Perhaps  thou  gavest  me,  though  unfelt,  a kiss  ; 

Perhaps  a tear,  if  souls  can  weep  in  bliss — 

Ah,  that  maternal  smile  ! — it  answers — Yes. 

I heard  the  bell  toll’d  on  thy  burial  day, 

I saw  the  hearse  that  bore  thee  slow  away, 

And,  turning  from  my  nursery  window,  drew 
A long,  long  sigh,  and  wept  a last  adieu  ! 

But  was  it  such  ? — It  was. — Where  thou  art  gone 
Adieus  and  farewells  are  a sound  unknown. 

May  I but  meet  thee  on  that  peaceful  shore, 

The  parting  word  shall  pass  my  lips  no  more ! 

Thy  maidens,  grieved  themselves  at  my  concern, 

Oft  gave  me  promise  of  thy  quick  return. 

What  ardently  I wish’d,  I long  believed, 

And  disappointed  still,  was  still  deceived ; 




By  expectation  every  day  beguiled, 

Dupe  of  to-morrow  even  from  a child. 

Thus  many  a sad  to-morrow  came  and  went. 

Till,  all  my  stock  of  infant  sorrows  spent, 

I learn’ d at  last  submission  to  my  lot, 

But,  though  I less  deplored  thee,  ne’er  forgot. 

In  the  years  that  followed  no  doubt  he  remembered  her 
too  well.  At  six  years  of  age  this  little  mass  of  timid 
and  quivering  sensibility  was,  in  accordance  with  the 
cruel  custom  of  the  time,  sent  to  a large  hoarding  school. 
The  change  from  home  to  a hoarding  school  is  had  enough 
now ; it  was  much  worse  in  those  days. 

“ I had  hardships,”  says  Cowper,  “ of  various  kinds  to 
conflict  with,  which  I felt  more  sensibly  in  proportion  to 
the  tenderness  with  which  I had  been  treated  at  home. 
But  my  chief  affliction  consisted  in  my  being  singled  out 
from  all  the  other  hoys  by  a lad  of  about  fifteen  years  of 
age  as  a proper  object  upon  whom  he  might  let  loose  the 
cruelty  of  his  temper.  I choose  to  conceal  a particular 
recital  of  the  many  acts  of  barbarity  with  which  he  made 
it  his  business  continually  to  persecute  me.  It  will  be  suf- 
ficient to  say  that  his  savage  treatment  of  me  impressed  such 
a dread  of  his  figure  upon  my  mind,  that  I well  remember 
being  afraid  to  lift  my  eyes  upon  him  higher  than  to  his 
knees,  and  that  I knew  him  better  by  his  shoe-buckles 
than  by  any  other  part  of  his  dress.  May  the  Lord 
pardon  him,  and  may  we  meet  in  glory ! ” Cowper 
charges  himself,  it  may  be  in  the  exaggerated  style  of  a 
self-accusing  saint,  with  having  become  at  school  an  adept 
in  the  art  of  lying.  Southey  says  this  must  be  a mistake, 
since  at  English  public  schools  boys  do  not  learn  to  lie. 
But  the  mistake  is  on  Southey’s  part ; bullying,  such  as 




this  child  endured,  while  it  makes  the  strong  boys 
tyrants,  makes  the  weak  boys  cowards,  and  teaches  them 
to  defend  themselves  by  deceit,  the  fist  of  the  weak. 
The  recollection  of  this  boarding  school  mainly  it  was 
that  at  a later  day  inspired  the  plea  for  a home  education 
in  Tirocinium. 

Then  why  resign  into  a stranger’s  hand 
A task  as  much  within  your  own  command, 

That  God  and  nature,  and  your  interest  too, 

Seem  with  one  voice  to  delegate  to  you  ? 

Why  hire  a lodging  in  a house  unknown 

For  one  whose  tenderest  thoughts  all  hover  round  your  own  ? 
This  second  weaning,  needless  as  it  is, 

How  does  it  lacerate  both  your  heart  and  his  ! 

The  indented  stick  that  loses  day  by  day 
Notch  after  notch,  till  all  are  smooth’d  away, 

Bears  witness  long  ere  his  dismission  come, 

With  what  intense  desire  he  wants  his  home. 

But  though  the  joys  he  hopes  beneath  your  roof 
Bid  fair  enough  to  answer  in  the  proof, 

Harmless,  and  safe,  and  natural  as  they  are, 

A disappointment  waits  him  even  there  : 

Arrived,  he  feels  an  unexpected  change, 

He  blushes,  hangs  his  head,  is  shy  and  strange. 

No  longer  takes,  as  once,  with  fearless  ease, 

His  favourite  stand  between  his  father’s  knees, 

But  seeks  the  corner  of  some  distant  seat, 

And  eyes  the  door,  and  watches  a retreat, 

And,  least  familiar  where  he  should  be  most. 

Feels  all  his  happiest  privileges  lost. 

Alas,  poor  boy  ! — the  natural  effect 
Of  love  by  absence  chill’d  into  respect. 

From  the  boarding  school,  the  boy,  his  eyes  being  liable 
to  inflammation,  was  sent  to  live  with  an  oculist,  in 
whose  house  he  spent  two  years,  enjoying  at  all  events 
a respite  from  the  sufferings  and  the  evils  of  the  boarding 




school.  He  was  then  sent  to  Westminster  School,  at 
that  time  in  its  glory.  That  Westminster  in  those  days 
must  have  been  a scene  not  merely  of  hardship,  but  of 
cruel  suffering  and  degradation  to  the  younger  and  weaker 
boys,  has  been  proved  by  the  researches  of  the  Public 
Schools  Commission.  There  was  an  established  system 
and  a regular  vocabulary  of  bullying.  Yet  Cowper  seems 
not  to  have  been  so  unhappy  there  as  at  the  private 
school ; he  speaks  of  himself  as  having  excelled  at  cricket 
and  football ; and  excellence  in  cricket  and  football  at  a 
public  school  generally  carries  with  it,  besides  health 
and  enjoyment,  not  merely  immunity  from  bullying,  but 
high  social  consideration.  With  all  Cowper’s  delicacy 
and  sensitiveness,  he  must  have  had  a certain  fund  of 
physical  strength,  or  he  could  hardly  have  borne  the 
literary  labour  of  his  later  years,  especially  as  he  was 
subject  to  the  medical  treatment  of  a worse  than  empirical 
era.  At  one  time  he  says,  while  he  was  at  Westminster, 
his  spirits  were  so  buoyant  that  he  fancied  he  should 
never  die,  till  a skull  thrown  out  before  him  by  a grave- 
digger as  he  was  passing  through  St.  Margaret’s  church- 
yard in  the  night  recalled  him  to  a sense  of  his  mortality. 

The  instruction  at  a public  school  in  those  days  was 
exclusively  classical.  Cowper  was  under  Vincent  Bourne, 
his  portrait  of  whom  is  in  some  respects  a picture  not 
only  of  its  immediate  subject,  but  of  the  schoolmaster 
of  the  last  century.  “ I love  the  memory  of  Vinny 
Bourne.  I think  him  a better  Latin  poet  than  Tibullus, 
Propertius,  Ausonius,  or  any  of  the  writers  in  his  way, 
except  Ovid,  and  not  at  all  inferior  to  him.  I love  him 
too  with  a love  of  partiality,  because  he  was  usher  of  the 
fifth  form  at  Westminster  when  I passed  through  it.  He 




was  so  good-natured  and  so  indolent  that  I lost  more  than 
I got  by  him,  for  he  made  me  as  idle  as  himself.  He 
was  such  a sloven,  as  if  he  had  trusted  to  his  genius  as  a 
cloak  for  everything  that  could  disgust  you  in  his  person ; 
and  indeed  in  his  writings  he  has  almost  made  amends 

for  all I remember  seeing  the  Duke  of  Bichmond 

set  fire  to  his  greasy  locks  and  box  his  ears  to  put  it  out 
again.”  Cowper  learned,  if  not  to  write  Latin  verses  as 
well  as  Yinny  Bourne  himself,  to  write  them  very  well, 
as  his  Latin  versions  of  some  of  his  own  short  poems  hear 
witness.  Not  only  so,  hut  he  evidently  became  a good 
classical  scholar,  as  classical  scholarship  was  in  those  days, 
and  acquired  the  literary  form  of  which  the  classics  are 
the  best  school.  Out  of  school  hours  he  studied  inde- 
pendently, as  clever  hoys  under  the  unexacting  rule  of 
the  old  public  schools  often  did,  and  read  through  the 
whole  of  the  Iliad  and  Odyssey  with  a friend.  He  also 
probably  picked  up  at  Westminster  much  of  the  little 
knowledge  of  the  world  which  he  ever  possessed.  Among 
his  schoolfellows  was  Warren  Hastings,  in  whose  guilt  as 
proconsul  he  afterwards,  for  the  sake  of  Auld  Lang  Syne, 
refused  to  believe,  and  Impey,  whose  character  has  had 
the  ill-fortune  to  be  required  as  the  shade  in  Macaulay’s 
fancy  picture  of  Hastings. 

On  leaving  Westminster,  Cowper,  at  eighteen,  went 
to  live  with  Mr.  Chapman,  an  attorney,  to  whom  he 
was  articled,  being  destined  for  the  Law.  He  chose  that 
profession,  he  says,  not  of  his  own  accord,  but  to  gratify 
an  indulgent  father,  who  may  have  been  led  into  the( 
error  by  a recollection  of  the  legal  honours  of  the  family, 
as  well  as  by  the  “ silver  pence  ” which  his  promising  son 
had  won  by  his  Latin  verses  at  Westminster  School. 




The  youth  duly  slept  at  the  attorney’s  house  in  Ely  Place. 
His  days  were  spent  in  “ giggling  and  making  giggle  ” 
with  his  cousins,  Theodora  and  Harriet,  the  daughters  of 
Ashley  Cowper,  in  the  neighbouring  Southampton  Eow. 
Ashley  Cowper  was  a very  little  man  in  a white  hat  lined 
with  yellow,  and  his  nephew  used  to  say  that  he  would 
one  day  he  picked  by  mistake  for  a mushroom.  His  fel- 
low-clerk in  the  office,  and  his  accomplice  in  giggling  and 
making  giggle,  was  one  strangely  mated  with  him;  the 
strong,  aspiring,  and  unscrupulous  Thurlow,  who  though 
fond  of  pleasure  was  at  the  same  time  preparing  himself 
to  push  his  way  to  wealth  and  power.  Cowper  felt  that 
Thurlow  would  reach  the  summit  of  ambition,  while  he 
would  himself  remain  below,  and  made  his  friend  promise 
when  he  was  Chancellor  to  give  him  something.  When 
Thurlow  was  Chancellor,  he  gave  Cowper  his  advice  on 
translating  Homer. 

At  the  end  of  his  three  years  with  the  attorney,  Cowper 
took  chambers  in  the  Middle,  from  which  he  afterwards 
removed  to  the  Inner  Temple.  The  Temple  is  now  a pile 
of  law  offices.  In  those  days  it  was  still  a Society.  One 
of  Cowper’s  set  says  of  it : “ The  Temple  is  the  barrier 
that  divides  the  City  and  suburbs ; and  the  gentlemen 
who  reside  there  seem  influenced  by  the  situation  of  the 
place  they  inhabit.  Templars  are  in  general  a kind  of 
citizen  courtiers.  They  aim  at  the  air  and  the  mien  of 
the  drawing-room ; but  the  holy-day  smoothness  of  a 
’prentice,  heightened  with  some  additional  touches  of  the 
rake  or  coxcomb,  betrays  itself  in  everything  they  do. 
The  Temple,  however,  is  stocked  with  its  peculiar  beaux, 
wits,  poets,  critics,  and  every  character  in  the  gay  world  ; 
and  it  is  a thousand  pities  that  so  pretty  a society  should 



be  disgraced  with  a few  dull  fellows,  who  can  submit  to 
puzzle  themselves  with  cases  and  reports,  and  have  not  taste 
enough  to  follow  the  genteel  method  of  studying  the  law.” 
Cowper  at  all  events  studied  law  by  the  genteel  method ; 
he  read  it  almost  as  little  in  the  Temple  as  he  had  in  the 
attorney’s  office,  though  in  due  course  of  time  he  was  for- 
mally called  to  the  Bar,  and  even  managed  in  some  way 
to  acquire  a reputation,  which  when  he  had  entirely  given 
up  the  profession  brought  him  a curious  offer  of  a reader- 
ship  at  Lyons  Inn.  His  time  was  given  to  literature,  and 
he  became  a member  of  a little  circle  of  men  of  letters 
and  journalists  which  had  its  social  centre  in  the  Non- 
sense Club,  consisting  of  seven  Westminster  men  who 
dined  together  every  Thursday.  In  the  set  were  Bonnell 
Thornton  and  Colman,  twin  wits,  fellow-writers  of  the 
periodical  essays  which  were  the  rage  in  that  day,  joint 
proprietors  of  the  St.  James's  Chronicle , contributors  both 
of  them  to  the  Connoisseur , and  translators,  Colman  of 
Terence,  Bonnell  Thornton  of  Plautus,  Colman  being  a 
dramatist  besides.  In  the  set  was  Lloyd,  another  wit  and 
essayist  and  a poet,  with  a character  not  of  the  best.  On 
the  edge  of  the  set,  but  apparently  not  in  it,  was  Churchill, 
who  was  then  running  a course  which  to  many  seemed 
meteoric,  and  of  whose  verse,  sometimes  strong  but  always 
turbid,  Cowper  conceived  and  retained  an  extravagant  ad- 
miration. Churchill  was  a link  to  Wilkes  ; Hogarth  too 
was  an  ally  of  Colman,  and  helped  him  in  his  exhibition  of 
Signs.  The  set  was  strictly  confined  to  Westminsters.  Gray 
and  Mason,  being  Etonians,  were  objects  of  its  literary 
hostility  and  butts  of  its  satire.  It  is  needless  to  say 
much  about  these  literary  companions  of  Cowper’s  youth ; 
his  intercourse  with  them  was  totally  broken  off,  and 




before  he  himself  became  a poet  its  effects  had  been 
obliterated  by  madness,  entire  change  of  mind,  and  the 
lapse  of  twenty  years.  If  a trace  remained,  it  was  in  his 
admiration  of  Churchill’s  verses,  and  in  the  general  results 
of  literary  society,  and  of  early  practice  in  composition. 
Cowper  contributed  to  the  Connoiseur  and  the  St.  James's 
Chronicle . His  papers  in  the  Connoisseur  have  been  pre- 
served ; they  are  mainly  imitations  of  the  lighter  papers 
of  the  Spectator  by  a student  who  affects  the  man  of  the 
world.  He  also  dallied  with  poetry,  writing  verses  to 
“ Delia,”  and  an  epistle  to  Lloyd.  He  had  translated 
an  elegy  of  Tibullus  when  he  was  fourteen,  and  at  West- 
minster he  had  written  an  imitation  of  Phillips’s  Splendid 
Shilling , which,  Southey  says,  shows  his  manner  formed. 
He  helped  his  Cambridge  brother,  John  Cowper,  in  a 
translation  of  the  Henriade.  He  kept  up  his  classics, 
especially  his  Homer.  In  his  letters  there  are  proofs  of 
his  familiarity  with  Kousseau.  Two  or  three  ballads 
which  he  wrote  are  lost,  but  he  says  they  were  popular, 
and  we  may  believe  him.  Probably  they  were  patriotic. 
“ When  poor  Bob  White,”  he  says,  “ brought  in  the 
news  of  Boscawen’s  success  off  the  coast  of  Portugal,  how 
did  I leap  for  joy  ! When  Hawke  demolished  Conflans, 
I was  still  more  transported.  But  nothing  could  express 
my  rapture  when  Wolfe  made  the  conquest  of  Quebec.” 
The  “ Delia  ” to  whom  Cowper  wrote  verses  was  his 
cousin  Theodora,  with  whom  he  had  an  unfortunate  love 
affair.  Her  father,  Ashley  Cowper,  forbade  their  marriage, 
nominally  on  the  ground  of  consanguinity,  really,  as 
Southey  thinks,  because  he  saw  Cowper’s  unfitness  for 
business  and  inability  to  maintain  a wife.  Cowper  felt 
the  disappointment  deeply  at  the  time,  as  well  he  might 




do  if  Theodora  resembled  her  sister,  Lady  Hesketh. 
Theodora  remained  unmarried,  and,  as  we  shall  see,  did 
not  forget  her  lover.  His  letters  she  preserved  till  her 
death  in  extreme  old  age. 

In  1756  Cowper’s  father  died.  There  does  not  seem 
to  have  been  much  intercourse  between  them,  nor  does 
the  son  in  after-years  speak  with  any  deep  feeling  of  his 
loss  : possibly  his  complaint  in  Tirocinium  of  the  effect 
of  boarding-schools,  in  estranging  children  from  their 
parents,  may  have  had  some  reference  to  his  own  case. 
His  local  affections,  however,  were  very  strong,  and  he 
felt  with  unusual  keenness  the  final  parting  from  his  old 
home,  and  the  pang  of  thinking  that  strangers  usurp  our 
dwelling  and  the  familiar  places  will  know  us  no  more. 

Where  once  we  dwelt  our  name  is  heard  no  more, 
Children  not  thine  have  trod  my  nursery  floor ; 

And  where  the  gardener  Robin,  day  by  day, 

Drew  me  to  school  along  the  public  way, 

Delighted  with  my  bauble  coach,  and  wrapp’d 
In  scarlet  mantle  warm  and  velvet  capp’d. 

*Tis  now  become  a history  little  known, 

That  once  we  call’d  the  pastoral  house  our  own. 

Before  the  rector’s  death,  it  seems,  his  pen  had  hardly 
realized  the  cruel  frailty  of  the  tenure  by  which  a home  in 
a parsonage  is  held.  Of  the  family  of  Berkhampstead 
Rectory  there  was  now  left  besides  himself  only  his 
brother  John  Cowper,  Fellow  of  Caius  College,  Cambridge, 
whose  birth  had  cost  their  mother’s  life. 

When  Cowper  was  thirty-two  and  still  living  in  the 
Temple,  came  the  sad  and  decisive  crisis  of  his  life.  He 
went  mad  and  attempted  suicide.  What  was  the  source 
of  his  madness  ? There  is  a vague  tradition  that  it  arose 




from  licentiousness,  which  no  doubt  is  sometimes  the 
cause  of  insanity.  But  in  Cowper’s  case  there  is  no  proof 
of  anything  of  the  kind  : his  confessions,  after  his  con- 
version, of  his  own  past  sinfulness  point  to  nothing  worse 
than  general  ungodliness  and  occasional  excess  in  wine ; 
and  the  tradition  derives  a colour  of  probability  only  from 
the  loose  lives  of  one  or  two  of  the  wits  and  Bohemians 
with  whom  he  had  lived.  His  virtuous  love  of  Theodora 
was  scarcely  compatible  with  low  and  gross  amours. 
Generally,  his  madness  is  said  to  have  been  religious,  and 
the  blame  is  laid  on  the  same  foe  to  human  weal  as  that 
of  the  sacrifice  of  Iphigenia.  But  when  he  first  went 
mad,  his  conversion  to  Evangelicism  had  not  taken  place ; 
he  had  not  led  a particularly  religious  life,  nor  been  greatly 
given  to  religious  practices,  though  as  a clergyman’s  son 
he  naturally  believed  in  religion,  had  at  times  felt  religious 
emotions,  and  when  he  found  his  heart  sinking  had  tried 
devotional  books  and  prayers.  The  truth  is  his  malady 
was  simple  hypochondria,  having  its  source  in  delicacy 
of  constitution  and  weakness  of  digestion,  combined  with 
the  influence  of  melancholy  surroundings.  It  had  begun  to 
attack  him  soon  after  his  settlement  in  his  lonely  chambers 
in  the  Temple,  when  his  pursuits  and  associations,  as  we 
have  seen,  were  far  from  Evangelical.  When  its  Crisis 
arrived,  he  was  living  by  himself  without  any  society 
of  the  kind  that  suited  him  (for  the  excitement  of  the 
Nonsense  Club  was  sure  to  be  followed  by  reaction) ; he 
had  lost  his  love,  his  father,  his  home,  and  as  it  happened 
also  a dear  friend ; his  little  patrimony  was  fast  dwindling 
away  ; he  must  have  despaired  of  success  in  his  pro- 
fession ; and  his  outlook  was  altogether  dark.  It  yielded 
to  the  remedies  to  which  hypochondria  usually  yields, 




air,  exercise,  sunshine,  cheerful  society,  congenial  occupa- 
tion. It  came  with  January  and  went  with  May.  Its 
gathering  gloom  was  dispelled  for  a time  by  a stroll  in 
fine  weather  on  the  hills  above  Southampton  Water,  and 
Cowper  said  that  he  was  never  unhappy  for  a whole  day 
in  the  company  of  Lady  Hesketh.  When  he  had  become 
a Methodist,  his  hypochondria  took  a religious  form,  but 
so  did  his  recovery  from  hypochondria ; both  must  be  set 
down  to  the  account  of  his  faith,  or  neither.  This  double 
aspect  of  the  matter  will  plainly  appear  further  on.  A 
votary  of  wealth  when  his  brain  gives  way  under  disease 
or  age  fancies  that  he  is  a beggar.  A Methodist  when 
his  brain  gives  way  under  the  same  influences  fancies 
that  he  is  forsaken  of  God.  In  both  cases  the  root  of 
the  malady  is  physical. 

In  the  lines  which  Cowper  sent  on  his  disappointment 
to  Theodora’s  sister,  and  which  record  the  sources  of  his 
despondency,  there  is  not  a touch  of  religious  despair,  or 
of  anything  connected  with  religion.  The  catastrophe  was 
brought  on  by  an  incident  with  which  religion  had 
nothing  to  do.  The  office  of  clerk  of  the  Journals  in  the 
House  of  Lords  fell  vacant,  and  was  in  the  gift  of 
Cowper’s  kinsman  Major  Cowper,  as  patentee.  Cowper 
received  the  nomination.  He  had  longed  for  the  office, 
sinfully  as  he  afterwards  fancied ; it  would  exactly  have 
suited  him  and  made  him  comfortable  for  life.  But  his 
mind  had  by  this  time  succumbed  to  his  malady.  His 
fancy  conjured  up  visions  of  opposition  to  the  appoint- 
ment in  the  House  of  Lords ; of  hostility  in  the  office 
where  he  had  to  study  the  Journals  ; of  the  terrors  of  an 
examination  to  be  undergone  before  the  frowning  peers. 
After  hopelessly  poring  over  the  Journals  for  some  months 





lie  became  quite  mad,  and  his  madness  took  a suicidal 
form.  He  has  told  with  unsparing  exactness  the  story 
of  his  attempts  to  kill  himself.  In  his  youth  his  father 
had  unwisely  given  him  a treatise  in  favour  of  suicide  to 
read,  and  when  he  argued  against  it,  had  listened  to  his 
reasonings  in  a silence  which  he  construed  as  sympathy 
with  the  writer,  though  it  seems  to  have  been  only  un- 
willingness to  think  too  badly  of  the  state  of  a departed 
friend.  This  now  recurred  to  his  mind,  and  talk  with 
casual  companions  in  taverns  and  chophouses  was  enough 
in  his  present  condition  to  confirm  him  in  his  belief  that 
self-destruction  was  lawful.  Evidently  he  was  perfectly 
insane,  for  he  could  not  take  up  a newspaper  without 
reading  in  it  a fancied  libel  on  himself.  First  he  bought 
laudanum,  and  had  gone  out  into  the  fields  with  the 
intention  of  swallowing  it,  when  the  love  of  life  suggested 
another  way  of  escaping  the  dreadful  ordeal.  He  might 
sell  all  he  had,  fly  to  France,  change  his  religion,  and 
bury  himself  in  a monastery.  He  went  home  to  pack  up ; 
but  while  he  was  looking  over  his  portmanteau,  his 
mood  changed,  and  he  again  resolved  on  self-destruction. 
Taking  a coach  he  ordered  the  coachman  to  drive  to  the 
Tower  Wharf,  intending  to  throw  himself  into  the  river. 
But  the  love  of  life  once  more  interposed,  under  the  guise 
of  a low  tide  and  a porter  seated  on  the  quay.  Again  in 
the  coach,  and  afterwards  in  his  chambers,  he  tried  to 
swallow  the  laudanum  ; but  his  hand  was  paralysed  by 
“the  convincing  Spirit,”  aided  by  seasonable  interruptions 
from  the  presence  of  his  laundress  and  her  husband,  and 
at  length  he  threw  the  laudanum  away.  On  the  night 
before  the  day  appointed  for  the  examination  before  the 
Lords,  he  lay  some  time  with  the  point  of  his  penknife 




pressed  against  his  heart,  but  without  courage  to  drive  it 
home.  Lastly  he  tried  to  hang  himself ; and  on  this 
occasion  he  seems  to  have  been  saved  not  by  the  love  of 
life,  or  by  want  of  resolution,  hut  by  mere  accident.  He 
had  become  insensible,  when  the  garter  by  which  he  was 
suspended  broke,  and  his  fall  brought  in  the  laundress, 
who  supposed  him  to  be  in  a fit.  He  sent  her  to  a friend, 
to  whom  he  related  all  that  had  passed,  and  despatched 
him  to  his  kinsman.  His  kinsman  arrived,  listened  with 
horror  to  the  story,  made  more  vivid  by  the  sight  of  the 
broken  garter,  saw  at  once  that  all  thought  of  the  appoint- 
ment was  at  end,  and  carried  away  the  instrument  of 
nomination.  Let  those  whom  despondency  assails  read 
this  passage  of  Cowper’s  life,  and  remember  that  he  lived 
to  write  John  Gilpin  and  The  Task. 

Cowper  tells  us  that  “ to  this  moment  he  had  felt  no 
concern  of  a spiritual  kind  ; ” that  “ ignorant  of  original 
sin,  insensible  of  the  guilt  of  actual  transgression,  he 
understood  neither  the  Law  nor  the  Gospel;  the  con- 
demning nature  of  the  one,  nor  the  restoring  mercies  of 
of  the  other.”  But  after  attempting  suicide  he  was  seized, 
as  he  well  might  be,  with  religious  horrors./  How  it  was 
that  he  began  to  ask  himself  whether  he  had  been  guilty  of 
the  unpardonable  sin,  and  was  presently  persuaded  that  he 
had,  though  it  would  be  vain  to  inquire  what  he  imagined 
the  unpardonable  sin  to  be.  In  this  mood,  he  fancied 
that  if  there  was  any  balm  for  him  in  Gilead,  it  would  be 
found  in  the  ministrations  of  his  friend  Martin  Madan,  an 
Evangelical  clergyman  of  high  repute,  whom  he  had  been 
wont  to  regard  as  an  enthusiast.  His  Cambridge  brother, 
John,  the  translator  of  the  Henriade,  seems  to  have  had 
some  philosophic  doubts  as  to  the  efficacy  of  the  proposed 




remedy ; but,  like  a philosopher,  he  consented  to  the  ex- 
periment. Mr.  Madan  came  and  ministered,  but  in  that 
distempered  soul  his  balm  turned  to  poison ; his  religious 
conversations  only  fed  the  horrible  illusion.  A set  of 
English  Sapphics,  'written  by  Cowper  at  this  time,  and 
expressing  his  despair,  were  unfortunately  preserved;  they 
are  a ghastly  play  of  the  poetic  faculty  in  a mind  utterly 
deprived  of  self-control,  and  amidst  the  horrors  of  inrush- 
ing  madness.  Diabolical,  they  might  be  termed  more 
truly  than  religious. 

There  was  nothing  for  it  but  a madhouse. ) The  sufferer 
was  consigned  to  the  private  asylum  of  Dr.  Cotton,  at  St. 
Alban's.  An  ill-chosen  physician  Dr.  Cotton  would  have 
been,  if  the  malady  had  really  had  its  source  in  religion  ; 
for  he  was  himself  a pious  man,  a writer  of  hymns,  and 
was  in  the  habit  of  holding  religious  intercourse  with  his 
patients.  Cowper,  after  his  recovery,  speaks  of  that 
intercourse  with  the  keenest  pleasure  and  gratitude ; 
so  that  in  the  opinion  of  the  two  persons  best  qualified 
to  judge,  religion  in  this  case  was  not  the  bane.  Cowper 
has  given  us  a full  account  of  his  recovery.  It  was 
brought  about,  as  we  can  plainly  see,  by  medical  treat- 
ment wisely  applied;  but  it  came  in  the  form  of  a 
burst  of  religious  faith  and  hope.  He  rises  one  morning 
feeling  better;  grows  cheerful  over  his  breakfast,  takes 
up  the  Bible,  which  in  his  fits  of  madness  he  always 
threw  aside,  and  turns  to  a verse  in  the  Epistle  to  the 
Romans.  “ Immediately  I received  strength  to  believe, 
and  the  full  beams  of  the  Sun  of  Righteousness  shone 
upon  me.  I saw  the  sufficiency  of  the  atonement  He  had 
made,  my  pardon  in  His  blood,  and  the  fulness  and  com- 
pleteness of  His  justification.  In  a moment  I believed 




and  received  the  Gospel.”  Cotton  at  first  mistrusted  the 
sudden  change,  hut  he  was  at  length  satisfied,  pronounced 
his  patient  cured,  and  discharged  him  from  the  asylum, 
after  a detention  of  eighteen  months.  Cowper  hymned 
his  deliverance  in  The  Happy  Change , as  in  the  hideous 
Sapphics  he  had  given  religious  utterance  to  his  despair. 

The  soul,  a dreary  province  once 
Of  Satan’ s dark  domain, 

Feels  a new  empire  form’d  within, 

And  owns  a heavenly  reign. 

The  glorious  orb  whose  golden  beams 
The  fruitful  year  control, 

Since  first  obedient  to  Thy  word, 

He  started  from  the  goal, 

Has  cheer’d  the  nations  with  the  joys 
His  orient  rays  impart ; 

But,  Jesus,  ’tis  Thy  light  alone 
Can  shine  upon  the  heart. 

Once  for  all,  the  reader  of  Cowper’s  life  must  make  up 
his  mind  to  acquiesce  in  religious  forms  of  expression. 
If  he  does  not  sympathize  with  them,  he  will  recognize 
them  as  phenomena  of  opinion,  and  bear  them  like  a 
philosopher.  He  can  easily  translate  them  into  the  lan- 
guage of  psychology,  or  even  of  physiology,  if  he  thinks 



The  storm  was  over ; but  it  bad  swept  away  a great  part 
of  Cowper's  scanty  fortune,  and  almost  all  his  friends.  At 
thirty ^five  he  was  stranded  and  desolate.  He  was  obliged 
to  resign  a Commissionership  of  Bankruptcy  which  he 
held,  and  little  seems  to  have  remained  to  him  but  the 
rent  of  his  chambers  in  the  Temple.  A return  to  his 
profession  was,  of  course,  out  of  the  question.  His  re- 
lations, however,  combined  to  make  up  a little  income  for 
him,  though  from  a hope  of  his  family,  he  had  become  a 
melancholy  disappointment ; even  the  Major  contributing, 
in  spite  of  the  rather  trying  incident  of  the  nomination. 
His  brother  was  kind  and  did  a brother's  duty,  but  there 
does  not  seem  to  have  been  much  sympathy  between 
them ; John  Cowper  did  not  become  a convert  to  Evan- 
gelical doctrine  till  he  was  near  his  end,  and  he  was 
incapable  of  sharing  William's  spiritual  emotions.  Of 
his  brilliant  companions,  the  Bonnell  Thorntons  and  the 
Colmans,  the  quondam  members  of  the  Nonsense  Club, 
he  heard  no  more,  till  he  had  himself  become  famous. 
But  he  still  had  a staunch  friend  in  a less  brilliant  member 
of  the  Club,  Joseph  Hill,  the  lawyer,  evidently  a man 
who  united  strong  sense  and  depth  of  character  with 



literary  tastes  and  love  of  fun,  and  who  was  throughout 
Cowper’s  life  his  Mentor  in  matters  of  business,  with 
regard  to  which  he  was  himself  a child.  He  had  brought 
with  him  from  the  asylum  at  St.  Albans  the  servant  who 
had  attended  him  there,  and  who  had  been  drawn  by  the 
singular  talisman  of  personal  attraction  which  partly  made 
up  to  this  frail  and  helpless  being  for  his  entire  lack  of 
force.  He  had  also  brought  from  the  same  place  an  outcast 
boy  whose  case  had  excited  his  interest,  and  for  whom  he 
afterwards  provided  by  putting  him  to  a trade.  The  main- 
tenance of  these  two  retainers  was  expensive  and  led  to 
grumbling  among  the  subscribers  to  the  family  subsidy,  the 
Major  especially  threatening  to  withdraw  his  contribution. 
While  the  matter  was  in  agitation,  Cowper  received  an 
anonymous  letter  couched  in  the  kindest  terms,  bidding 
him  not  distress  himself,  for  that  whatever  deduction  from 
his  income  might  be  made,  the  loss  would  be  supplied  by 
one  who  loved  him  tenderly  and  approved  his  conduct. 
In  a letter  to  Lady  Hesketh,  he  says  that  he  wishes  he 
knew  who  dictated  this  letter,  and  that  he  had  seen  not 
long  before  a style  excessively  like  it.  He  can  scarcely 
have  failed  to  guess  that  it  came  from  Theodora. 

It  is  due  to  Cowper  to  say  that  he  accepts  the  assistance 
of  his  relatives  and  all  acts  of  kindness  done  to  him  with 
sweet  and  becoming  thankfulness ; and  that  whatever 
dark  fancies  he  may  have  had  about  his  religious  state, 
when  the  evil  spirit  was  upon  him,  he  always  speaks 
with  contentment  and  cheerfulness  of  his  earthly  lot. 
Nothing  splenetic,  no  element  of  suspicious  and  irritable 
self-love,  entered  into  the  composition  of  his  character. 

On  his  release  from  the  asylum  he  was  taken  in  hand  by 
his  brother  John,  who  first  tried  to  find  lodgings  for  him 




at  or  near  Cambridge,  and  failing  in  this,  placed  him  at 
Huntingdon,  within  a long  ride,  so  that  William  becoming 
a horseman  for  the  purpose,  the  brothers  could  meet  once 
a week.  Huntingdon  was  a quiet  little  town  with  less 
than  two  thousand  inhabitants,  in  a dull  country,  the 
best  part  of  which  was  the  Ouse,  especially  to  Cowper, 
who  was  fond  of  bathing.  Life  there,  as  in  other 
English  country  towns  in  those  days,  and  indeed  till 
railroads  made  people  everywhere  too  restless  and  mi- 
gratory for  companionship  or  even  for  acquaintance, 
was  sociable  in  an  unrefined  way.  There  were  assem- 
blies, dances,  races,  card-parties,  and  a bowling-green,  at 
which  the  little  world  met  and  enjoyed  itself.  From 
these  the  new  convert,  in  his  spiritual  ecstasy,  of 
course  turned  away  as  mere  modes  of  murdering  time. 
Three  families  received  him  with  civility,  two  of  them 
with  cordiality  ; but  the  chief  acquaintances  he  made 
were  with  “odd  scrambling  fellows  like  himself an 
eccentric  water-drinker  and  vegetarian  who  was  to  be  met 
by  early  risers  and  walkers  every  morning  at  six  o’clock 
by  his  favourite  spring ; a char-parson,  of  the  class  common 
in  those  days  of  sinecurism  and  non-residence,  who  walked 
sixteen  miles  every  Sunday  to  serve  two  churches,  besides 
reading  daily  prayers  at  Huntingdon,  and  who  regaled 
his  friend  with  ale  brewed  by  his  own  hands.  In  his 
attached  servant  the  recluse  boasted  that  he  had  a friend ; 
a friend  he  might  have,  but  hardly  a companion. 

For  the  first  days  and  even  weeks,  however,  Hunting- 
don seemed  a paradise.  The  heart  of  its  new  inhabitant 
was  full  of  the  unspeakable  happiness  that  comes  with 
calm  after  storm,  with  health  after  the  most  terrible 
of  maladies,  with  repose  after  the  burning  fever  of  the 


brain.  When  first  he  went  to  church  he  was  in  a spiritual 
ecstasy;  it  was  with  difficulty  that  he  restrained  his 
emotions  ; though  his  voice  was  silent,  being  stopped  by 
the  intensity  of  his  feelings,  his  heart  within  him  sang 
for  joy ; and  when  the  Gospel  for  the  day  was  read,  the 
sound  of  it  was  more  than  he  could  well  bear.  This 
brightness  of  his  mind  communicated  itself  to  all  the 
objects  round  him,  to  the  sluggish  waters  of  the  Ouse, 
to  dull,  fenny  Huntingdon,  and  to  its  commonplace 

For  about  three  months  his  cheerfulness  lasted,  and 
with  the  help  of  books,  and  his  rides  to  meet  his  brother, 
he  got  on  pretty  well ; but  then  “ the  communion 
which  he  had  so  long  been  able  to  maintain  with 
the  Lord  was  suddenly  interrupted.”  This  is  his  theo- 
logical version  of  the  case ; the  rationalistic  version 
immediately  follows  : “I  began  to  dislike  my  solitary 
situation,  and  to  fear  I should  never  be  able  to  weather 
out  the  winter  in  so  lonely  a dwelling.”  Ho  man  could  be 
less  fitted  to  bear  a lonely  life ; persistence  in  the  attempt 
would  soon  have  brought  back  his  madness.  He  was  long- 
ing for  a home ; and  a home  was  at  hand  to  receive  him. 
It  was  not  perhaps  one  of  the  happiest  kind  ; but  the 
influence  which  detracted  from  its  advantages  was  the 
one  which  rendered  it  hospitable  to  the  wanderer.  If 
Christian  piety  was  carried  to  a morbid  excess  beneath 
its  roof,  Christian  charity  opened  its  door. 

The  religious  revival  was  now  in  full  career,  with 
Wesley  for  its  chief  apostle,  organizer,  and  dictator, 
Whitefield  for  its  great  preacher,  Fletcher  of  Madeley  for 
its  typical  saint,  Lady  Huntingdon  for  its  patroness  among 
the  aristocracy  and  the  chief  of  its  “ devout  women.” 




From  the  pulpit,  but  still  more  from  the  stand  of  the 
field-preacher  and  through  a well-trained  army  of  social 
propagandists,  it  was  assailing  the  scepticism,  the  coldness, 
the  frivolity,  the  vices  of  the  age.  English  society  was 
deeply  stirred;  multitudes  were  converted,  while  among 
those  who  were  not  converted  violent  and  sometimes  cruel 
antagonism  was  aroused.  The  party  had  two  wings,  the 
Evangelicals,  people  of  the  wealthier  class  or  clergymen 
of  the  Church  of  England,  who  remained  within  the 
Establishment ; and  the  Methodists,  people  of  the  lower 
middle  class  or  peasants,  the  personal  converts  and  fol- 
lowers of  Wesley  and  Whitefield,  who,  like  their  leaders, 
without  a positive  secession,  soon  found  themselves 
organizing  a separate  spiritual  life  in  the  freedom  of 
Dissent.  In  the  early  stages  of  the  movement  the  Evan- 
gelicals were  to  he  counted  at  most  by  hundreds,  the 
Methodists  by  hundreds  of  thousands.  So  far  as  the 
masses  were  concerned,  it  was  in  fact  a preaching  of 
Christianity  anew.  There  was  a cross  division  of  the 
party  into  the  Calvinists  and  those  whom  the  Calvinists 
called  Arminians ; Wesley  belonging  to  the  latter  section, 
while  the  most  pronounced  and  vehement  of  the  Cal- 
vinists was  “ the  fierce  Toplady.”  As  a rule,  the  darker 
and  sterner  element,  that  which  delighted  in  religious 
terrors  and  threatenings  was  Calvinist,  the  milder  and 
gentler,  that  which  preached  a gospel  of  love  and  hope, 
continued  to  look  up  to  Wesley,  and  to  bear  with  him 
the  reproach  of  being  Arminian. 

It  is  needless  to  enter  into  a minute  description  of 
Evangelicism  and  Methodism  ; they  are  not  things  of  the 
past.  If  Evangelicism  has  now  been  reduced  to  a narrow 
domain  by  the  advancing  forces  of  Ritualism  on  one  side 


and  of  Rationalism  on  the  other,  Methodism  is  still  the 
great  Protestant  Chnrch,  especially  beyond  the  Atlantic. 
The  spiritual  fire  which  they  have  kindled,  the  character 
which  they  have  produced,  the  moral  reforms  which  they 
have  wrought,  the  works  of  charity  and  philanthropy 
to  which  they  have  given  birth,  are  matters  not  only  of 
recent  memory,  hut  of  present  experience.  Like  the 
great  Protestant  revivals  which  had  preceded  them  in 
England,  like  the  Moravian  revival  on  the  Continent,  to 
which  they  were  closely  related,  they  sought  to  bring  the 
soul  into  direct  communion  with  its  Maker,  rejecting  the 
intervention  of  a priesthood  or  a sacramental  system.) 
Unlike  the  previous  revivals  in  England,  they  warred 
not  against  the  rulers  of  the  Church  or  State,  hut  only 
against  vice  or  irreligion.  Consequently  in  the  characters 
which  they  produced,  as  compared  with  those  produced 
by  Wycliffism,  by  the  Reformation,  and  notably  by 
Puritanism,  there  was  less  of  force  and  the  grandeur 
connected  with  it,  more  of  gentleness,  mysticism,  and 
religious  love.  Even  Quietism,  or  something  like  it, 
prevailed,  especially  among  the  Evangelicals,  who  were 
not  like  the  Methodists,  engaged  in  framing  a new  or- 
ganization or  in  wrestling  with  the  barbarous  vices  of  the 
lower  orders.  No  movement  of  the  kind  has  ever  been 
exempt  from  drawbacks  and  follies,  from  extravagance, 
exaggeration,  breaches  of  good  taste  in  religious  matters, 
unctuousness,  and  cant — from  chimerical  attempts  to  get 
rid  of  the  flesh  and  live  an  angelic  life  on  earth — from 
delusions  about  special  providences  and  miracles — from  a 
tendency  to  over-value  doctrine  and  undervalue  duty- — 
from  arrogant  assumption  of  spiritual  authority  by  leaders 
and  preachers — from  the  self-righteousness  which  fancies 




itself  the  object  of  a divine  election,  and  looks  out  with  a 
sort  of  religious  complacency  from  the  Ark  of  Salvation 
in  which  it  fancies  itself  securely  placed,  upon  the  drown- 
ing of  an  unregenerate  world.  Still  it  will  hardly  be 
doubted  that  in  the  effects  produced  by  Evangelicism  and 
Methodism  the  good  has  outweighed  the  evil.  Had  Jan- 
senism prospered  as  well,  France  might  have  had  more  of 
reform  and  less  of  revolution.  The  poet  of  the  movement 
will  not  be  condemned  on  account  of  his  connexion  with 
it,  any  more  than  Milton  is  condemned  on  account  of  his 
connexion  with  Puritanism,  provided  it  be  found  that  he 
also  served  art  well. 

Cowper,  as  we  have  seen,  was  already  converted.  In  a 
letter  written  at  this  time  to  Lady  Hesketh,  he  speaks  of 
himself  with  great  humility  “ as  a convert  made  in  Bed- 
lam, who  is  more  likely  to  be  a stumblingblock  to  others, 
than  to  advance  their  faith,”  though  he  adds,  with  reason 
enough,  “ that  he  who  can  ascribe  an  amendment  of  life 
and  manners,  and  a reformation  of  the  heart  itself,  to 
madness  is  guilty  of  an  absurdity,  that  in  any  other  case 
would  fasten  the  imputation  of  madness  upon  himself.” 
It  is  hence  to  be  presumed  that  he  traced  his  conversion 
to  his  spiritual  intercourse  with  the  Evangelical  physician 
of  St.  Albans,  though  the  seed  sown  by  Martin  Madan 
may  perhaps  also  have  sprung  up  in  his  heart  when  the 
more  propitious  season  arrived.  However  that  may  have 
been,  the  two  great  factors  of  Cowper’s  life  were  the 
malady  which  consigned  him  to  poetic  seclusion  and  the 
conversion  to  Evangelicism,  which  gave  him  his  inspira- 
tion and  his  theme. 

At  Huntingdon  dwelt  the  Eev.  William  Unwin,  a clergy- 
man, taking  pupils,  his  wife,  much  younger  than  himself, 


and  their  son  and  daughter.  It  was  a typical  family 
of  the  Revival.  Old  Mr.  Unwin  is  described  by 
Cowper  as  a Parson  Adams.  The  son,  William  Unwin, 
was  preparing  for  holy  orders.  He  was  a man  of  some 
mark,  and  received  tokens  of  intellectual  respect  from 
Paley,  though  he  is  best  known  as  the  friend  to  whom 
many  of  Cowper’s  letters  are  addressed.  He  it  was  who, 
struck  by  the  appearance  of  the  stranger,  sought  an  oppor- 
tunity of  making  his  acquaintance.  He  found  one,  after 
morning  church,  when  Cowper  was  taking  his  solitary 
walk  beneath  the  trees.  Under  the  influence  of  religious 
sympathy  the  acquaintance  quickly  ripened  into  friend- 
ship ; Cowper  at  once  became  one  of  the  Unwin  circle, 
and  soon  afterwards,  a vacancy  being  made  by  the  de- 
parture of  one  of  the  pupils,  he  became  a boarder  in  the 
house.  This  position  he  had  passionately  desired  on 
religious  grounds ; but  in  truth  he  might  well  have 
desired  it  on  economical  grounds  also,  for  he  had  begun 
to  experience  the  difficulty  and  expensiveness,  as  well  as 
the  loneliness,  of  bachelor  housekeeping,  and  financial 
deficit  was  evidently  before  him.  To  Mrs.  Unwin  he  was 
from  the  first  strongly  drawn.  “ I met  Mrs.  Unwin  in 
the  street,”  he  says,  “ and  went  home  with  her.  She 
and  I walked  together  near  two  hours  in  the  garden,  and 
had  a conversation  which  did  me  more  good  than  I should 
have  received  from  an  audience  with  the  first  prince  in 
Europe.  That  woman  is  a blessing  to  me,  and  I never 
see  her  without  being  the  better  for  her  company.”  Mrs. 
Unwin’s  character  is  written  in  her  portrait  with  its 
prim  but  pleasant  features ; a Puritan  and  a precisian 
she  was ; but  she  was  not  morose  or  sour,  and  she 
had  a boundless  capacity  for  affection.  Lady  Hesketh, 




a woman  of  the  world,  and  a good  judge  in  every 
respect,  says  of  her  at  a later  period,  when  she  had 
passed  with  Cowper  through  many  sad  and  trying 
years : “ She  is  very  far  from  grave ; on  the  contrary,  she 
is  cheerful  and  gay,  and  laughs  de  bon  coeur  upon  the 
smallest  provocation.  Amidst  all  the  little  puritanical 
words  which  fall  from  her  de  temps  en  temps , she  seems 
to  have  by  nature  a quiet  fund  of  gaiety ; great  indeed 
must  it  have  been,  not  to  have  been  wholly  overcome  by 
the  close  confinement  in  which  she  has  lived,  and  the 
anxiety  she  must  have  undergone  for  one  whom  she 
certainly  loves  as  well  as  one  human  being  can  love 
another.  I will  not  say  she  idolizes  him,  because  that 
she  would  think  wrong ; but  she  certainly  seems  to 
possess  the  truest  regard  and  affection  for  this  excellent 
creature,  and,  as  I said  before,  has  in  the  most  literal 
sense  of  those  words,  no  will  or  shadow  of  inclination  but 
what  is  his.  My  account  of  Mrs.  Unwin  may  seem 
perhaps  to  you,  on  comparing  my  letters,  contradictory ; 
but  when  you  consider  that  I began  to  write  at  the  first 
moment  that  I saw  her,  you  will  not  wonder.  Her 
character  develops  itself  by  degrees ; and  though  I might 
lead  you  to  suppose  her  grave  and  melancholy,  she  is 
not  so  by  any  means.  When  she  speaks  upon  grave 
subjects,  she  does  express  herself  with  a puritanical  tone, 
and  in  puritanical  expressions,  but  on  all  subjects  she 
seems  to  have  a great  disposition  to  cheerfulness  and 
mirth ; and  indeed  had  she  not,  she  could  not  have  gone 
through  all  she  has.  I must  say,  too,  that  she  seems  to 
be  very  well  read  in  the  English  poets,  as  appears  by 
several  little  quotations,  which  she  makes  from  time  to 
time,  and  has  a true  taste  for  what  is  excellent  in  that  way.” 


When  Cowper  became  an  author  he  paid  the  highest 
respect  to  Mrs.  Unwin  as  an  instinctive  critic,  and  called 
her  his  Lord  Chamberlain,  whose  approbation  was  his 
sufficient  licence  for  publication. 

Life  in  the  Unwin  family  is  thus  described  by  the  new 
inmate : — “ As  to  amusements,  I mean  what  the  world  calls 
such,  we  have  none.  The  place  indeed  swarms  with  them ; 
and  cards  and  dancing  are  the  professed  business  of 
almost  all  the  gentle  inhabitants  of  Huntingdon.  We 
refuse  to  take  part  in  them,  or  to  be  accessories  to  this 
way  of  murdering  our  time,  and  by  so  doing  have  acquired 
the  name  of  Methodists.  Having  told  you  how  we  do 
not  spend  our  time,  I will  next  say  how  we  do.  We 
breakfast  commonly  between  eight  and  nine ; till  eleven, 
we  read  either  the  scripture,  or  the  sermons  of  some 
faithful  preacher  of  those  holy  mysteries ; at  eleven  we 
attend  divine  service,  which  is  performed  here  twice 
every  day,  and  from  twelve  to  three  we  separate,  and 
amuse  ourselves  as  we  please.  During  that  interval,  I 
either  read  in  my  own  apartment,  or  walk  or  ride,  or 
work  in  the  garden.  We  seldom  sit  an  hour  after  dinner, 
but,  if  the  weather  permits,  adjourn  to  the  garden,  where, 
with  Mrs.  Unwin  and  her  son,  I ‘have  generally  the 
pleasure  of  religious  conversation  till  tea-time.  If  it 
rains,  or  is  too  windy  for  walking,  we  either  converse 
within  doors  or  sing  some  hymns  of  Martin’s  collection, 
and  by  the  help  of  Mrs.  Unwin’s  harpsichord,  make  up 
a tolerable  concert,  in  which  our  hearts  I hope  are  the 
best  performers.  After  tea  we  sally  forth  to  walk  in 
good  earnest.  Mrs.  Unwin  is  a good  walker,  and  we 
have  generally  travelled  about  four  miles  before  we  see 
home  again.  When  the  days  are  short  we  make  this 




excursion  in  the  former  part  of  the  day,  between  church- 
time and  dinner.  At  night  we  read  and  converse  as 
before  till  supper,  and  commonly  finish  the  evening  either 
with  hymns  or  a sermon,  and  last  of  all  the  family  are 
called  to  prayers.  I need  not  tell  you  that  such  a life  as 
this  is  consistent  with  the  utmost  cheerfulness ; accord- 
ingly we  are  all  happy,  and  dwell  together  in  unity  as 

Mrs.  Cowper,  the  wife  of  Major  (now  Colonel)  Cowper, 
to  whom  this  was  written,  was  herself  strongly  Evan- 
gelical ; Cowper  had,  in  fact,  unfortunately  for  him,  turned 
from  his  other  relations  and  friends  to  her  on  that  account. 
She,  therefore,  would  have  no  difficulty  in  thinking  that 
such  a life  was  consistent  with  cheerfulness,  but  ordinary 
readers  will  ask  how  it  could  fail  to  bring  on  another  fit 
of  hypochondria.  The  answer  is  probably  to  be  found 
in  the  last  words  of  the  passage.  Overstrained  and 
ascetic  piety  found  an  antidote  in  affection.  The  Unwins 
were  Puritans  and  enthusiasts,  but  their  household  was  a 
picture  of  domestic  love. 

With  the  name  of  Mrs.  Cowper  is  connected  an  incident 
which  occurred  at  this  time,  and  which  illustrates  the 
propensity  to  self-inspection  and  self-revelation  which 
Cowper  had  in  common  with  Rousseau.  Huntingdon, 
like  other  little  towns,  was  all  eyes  and  gossip  ; the  new 
comer  was  a mysterious  stranger  who  kept  himself  aloof 
from  the  general  society,  and  he  naturally  became  the 
mark  for  a little  stone-throwing.  Young  Unwin  happen- 
ing to  be  passing  near  “ the  Park  ” on  his  way  from 
London  to  Huntingdon,  Cowper  gave  him  an  introduction 
to  its  lady,  in  a fetter  to  whom  he  afterwards  disclosed 
his  secret  motive.  “My  dear  Cousin, — You  sent  my 


friend  Unwin  home  to  us  charmed  with  your  kind  recep- 
tion of  him,  and  with  everything  he  saw  at  the  Park. 
Shall  I once  more  give  you  a peep  into  my  vile  and 
deceitful  heart  ? What  motive  do  you  think  lay  at  the 
bottom  of  my  conduct  when  I desired  him  to  call  upon 
you?  I did  not  suspect,  at  first,  that  pride  and  vain- 
glory had  any  share  in  it ; but  quickly  after  I had  recom- 
mended the  visit  to  him,  I discovered,  in  that  fruitful 
soil,  the  very  root  of  the  matter.  You  know  T am  a 
stranger  here ; all  such  are  suspected  characters,  unless 
they  bring  their  credentials  with  them.  To  this  moment, 
I believe,  it  is  a matter  of  speculation  in  the  place, 
whence  I came,  and  to  whom  I belong.  Though  my 
friend,  you  may  suppose,  before  I was  admitted  an 
inmate  here,  was  satisfied  that  I was  not  a mere  vaga- 
bond, and  has,  since  that  time,  received  more  con- 
vincing proofs  of  my  sponsibility ; yet  I could  not 
resist  the  opportunity  of  furnishing  him  with  ocular 
demonstration  of  it,  by  introducing  him  to  one  of  my 
most  splendid  connexions  ; that  when  he  hears  me  called 
‘ that  fellow  Cowper,’  which  has  happened  heretofore,  he 
may  be  able,  upon  unquestionable  evidence,  to  assert  my 
gentlemanhood,  and  relieve  me  from  the  weight  of  that 
opprobrious  appellation.  Oh  pride ! pride ! it  deceives  with 
the  subtlety  of  a serpent,  and  seems  to  walk  erect,  though 
it  crawls  upon  the  earth.  How  will  it  twist  and  twine 
itself  about  to  get  from  under  the  Cross,  which  it  is  the 
glory  of  our  Christian  calling  to  be  able  to  bear  with 
patience  and  goodwill.  They  who  can  guess  at  the  heart 
of  a stranger, — and  you  especially,  who  are  of  a com- 
passionate temper,— will  be  more  ready,  perhaps,  to  excuse 
me,  in  this  instance,  than  I can  be  to  excuse  myself  But, 




[CH.  II. 

in  good  truth,  it  was  abominable  pride  of  heart,  indig- 
nation, and  vanity,  and  deserves  no  better  name.” 

Once  more,  however  obsolete  Cowper’s  belief,  and  the 
language  in  which  be  expresses  it  may  have  become  for 
many  of  us,  we  must  take  it  as  bis  philosophy  of  life. 
At  this  time,  at  all  events,  it  was  a source  of  happiness. 
“ The  storm  being  passed,  a quiet  and  peaceful  serenity 
of  soul  succeeded;”  and  the  serenity  in  this  case  was 
unquestionably  produced  in  part  by  the  faith. 

I was  a stricken  deer  that  left  the  herd 
Long  since ; with  many  an  arrow  deep  infixed 
My  panting  side  was  charged,  when  I withdrew 
To  seek  a tranquil  death  in  distant  shades. 

There  was  I found  by  one  who  had  himself 
Been  hurt  by  the  archers.  In  his  side  he  bore 
And  in  his  hands  and  feet  the  cruel  scars, 

With  gentle  force  soliciting  the  darts, 

He  drew  them  forth  and  healed  and  bade  me  live. 

Cowper  thought  for  a moment  of  taking  orders,  hut  his 
dread  of  appearing  in  public  conspired  with  the  good  sense 
which  lay  beneath  his  excessive  sensibility  to  put  a veto 
on  the  design.  He,  however,  exercised  the  zeal  of  a 
neophyte  in  proselytism  to  a greater  extent  than  his 
own  judgment  and  good  taste  approved  when  his  enthu- 
siasm had  calmed  down. 



Cowper  had  not  been  two  years  with  the  Unwins  when 
Mr.  Unwin,  the  father,  was  killed  by  a fall  from  his 
horse ; this  broke  np  the  household.  But  between 
Cowper  and  Mrs.  Unwin  an  indissoluble  tie  had  been 
formed.  It  seems  clear,  notwithstanding  Southey’s  asser- 
tion to  the  contrary,  that  they  at  one  time  meditated 
marriage,  possibly  as  a propitiation  to  the  evil  tongues 
which  did  not  spare  even  this  most  innocent  connexion  ; 
but  they  were  prevented  from  fulfilling  their  intention  by  j 
a return  of  Cowper’s  malady.  They  became  companions 
for  life.  Cowper  says  they  were  as  mother  and  son  to 
each  other;  but  Mrs.  Unwin  was  only  seven  years  older 
than  he.  To  label  their  connexion  is  impossible,  and 
to  try  to  do  it  would  be  a platitude.  In  his  poems 
Cowper  calls  Mrs.  Unwin  Mary;  she  seems  always  to 
have  called  him  Mr.  Cowper.  It  is  evident  that  her  son, 
a strictly  virtuous  and  religious  man,  never  had  the 
slightest  misgiving  about  his  mother’s  position. 

The  pair  had  to  choose  a dwelling-place;  they  chose 
Olney  in  Buckinghamshire,  on  the  Ouse.  The  Ouse  was 
“a  slow  winding  river,”  watering  low  meadows,  from 
which  crept  pestilential  fogs.  Olney  was  a dull  town,  or 




rather  village,  inhabited  by  a population  of  lace-makers, 
ill-paid,  fever-stricken,  and  for  the  most  part  as  brutal  as 
they  were  poor.  There  was  not  a woman  in  the  place 
excepting  Mrs.  Newton  with  whom  Mrs.  Unwin  could 
associate,  or  to  whom  she  could  look  for  help  in  sickness 
or  other  need.  The  house  in  which  the  pair  took  up  their 
abode  was  dismal,  prison-like,  and  tumble-down ; when 
they  left  it,  the  competitors  for  the  succession  were  a 
cobbler  and  a publican.  It  looked  upon  the  Market 
Place,  but  it  was  in  the  close  neighbourhood  of  Silver 
End,  the  worst  part  of  Olney.  In  winter  the  cellars 
were  full  of  water.  There  were  no  pleasant  walks 
within  easy  reach,  and  in  winter  Cowper’s  only  exer- 
cise was  pacing  thirty  yards  of  gravel,  with  the  dreary 
supplement  of  dumb-bells.  What  was  the  attraction  to 
this  “well,”  this  “abyss,”  as  Cowper  himself  called  it, 
and  as,  physically  and  socially,  it  was  ? 

The  attraction  was  the  presence  of  the  Rev.  John  New- 
ton, then  curate  of  Olney.  The  vicar  was  Moses  Brown,  an 
Evangelical  and  a religious  writer,  who  has  even  deserved 
a place  among  the  worthies  of  the  revival ; but  a family 
of  thirteen  children,  some  of  whom  it  appears  too  closely 
resembled  the  sons  of  Eli,  had  compelled  him  to  take 
advantage  of  the  indulgent  character  of  the  ecclesiastical 
polity  of  those  days  by  becoming  a pluralist  and  a non- 
resident, so  that  the  curate  had  Olney  to  himself.  The 
patron  was  the  Lord  Dartmouth,  who,  as  Cowper  says, 
“ wore  a coronet  and  prayed.”  John  Newton  was  one 
of  the  shining  lights  and  foremost  leaders  and  preachers 
of  the  revival.  His  name  was  great  both  in  the 
Evangelical  churches  within  the  pale  of  the  Establish- 
ment, and  in  the  Methodist  churches  without  it.  He 




was  a brand  plucked  from  the  very  heart  of  the  burning. 
We  have  a memoir  of  his  life,  partly  written  by  himself, 
in  the  form  of  letters,  and  completed  under  his  super- 
intendence. It  is  a monument  of  the  age  of  Smollett 
and  Wesley,  not  less  characteristic  than  is  Cellini’s 
memoir  of  the  times  in  which  he  lived.  His  father 
was  master  of  a vessel,  and  took  him  to  sea  when  he 
was  eleven.  His  mother  was  a pious  Dissenter,  who  was 
at  great  pains  to  store  his  mind  with  religious  thoughts 
and  pieces.  She  died  when  he  was  young,  and  his  step- 
mother was  not  pious.  He  began  to  drag  his  religious 
anchor,  and  at  length,  having  read  Shaftesbury,  left 
his  theological  moorings  altogether,  and  drifted  into  a 
wide  sea  of  ungodliness,  blasphemy,  and  recklessness  of 
living.  Such  at  least  is  the  picture  drawn  by  the  sinner 
saved  of  his  own  earlier  years.  While  still  but  a strip- 
ling he  fell  desperately  in  love  with  a girl  of  thirteen ; 
his  affection  for  her  was  as  constant  as  it  was  romantic ; 
through  all  his  wanderings  and  sufferings  he  never  ceased 
to  think  of  her,  and  after  seven  years  she  became  his 
wife.  His  father  frowned  on  the  engagement,  and  he 
became  estranged  from  home.  He  was  impressed;  nar- 
rowly escaped  shipwreck,  deserted,  and  was  arrested  and 
flogged  as  a deserter.  Eeleased  from  the  navy,  he  was 
taken  into  the  service  of  a slave-dealer  on  the  coast  of 
Africa,  at  whose  hands,  and  those  of  the  man’s  negro 
mistress,  he  endured  every  sort  of  ill-treatment  and  con- 
tumely, being  so  starved  that  he  was  fain  sometimes  to 
devour  raw  roots  to  stay  his  hunger.  His  constitution 
must  have  been  of  iron  to  carry  him  through  all  that  he 
endured.  In  the  meantime  his  indomitable  mind  was 
engaged  in  attempts  at  self-culture  ; he  studied  a Euclid 




which  he  had  brought  with  him,  drawing  his  diagrams 
on  the  sand,  and  he  afterwards  managed  to  teach  himself 
Latin  by  means  of  a Horace  and  a Latin  Bible,  aided  by 
some  slight  vestiges  of  the  education  which  he  had 
received  at  a grammar  school.  His  conversion  was 
brought  about  by  the  continued  influences  of  Thomas 
a Kempis,  of  a very  narrow  escape,  after  terrible  suffer- 
ings, from  shipwreck,  of  the  impression  made  by  the 
sights  of  the  mighty  deep  on  a soul  which,  in  its  weather- 
beaten casing,  had  retained  its  native  sensibility,  and, 
we  may  safely  add,  of  the  disregarded  but  not  forgotten 
teachings  of  his  pious  mother.  Providence  was  now  kind 
to  him  ; he  became  captain  of  a slave-ship,  and  made 
several  voyages  on  the  business  of  the  trade.  That  it 
was  a wicked  trade  he  seems  to  have  had  no  idea  : he 
says  he  never  knew  sweeter  or  more  frequent  hours  of 
divine  communion  than  on  his  two  last  voyages  to 
Guinea.  Afterwards  it  occurred  to  him  that  though  his 
employment  was  genteel  and  profitable,  it  made  him  a 
sort  of  gaoler,  unpleasantly  conversant  with  both  chains 
and  shackles  ; and  he  besought  Providence  to  fix  him  in 
a more  humane  calling. 

In  answer  to  his  prayer  came  a fit  of  apoplexy,  which 
made  it  dangerous  for  him  to  go  to  sea  again.  He 
obtained  an  office  in  the  port  of  Liverpool,  but  soon  he 
set  his  heart  on  becoming  a minister  of  the  Church  of 
England.  He  applied  for  ordination  to  the  Archbishop 
of  York,  but  not  having  the  degree  required  by  the  rules 
of  the  Establishment,  he  received  through  his  Grace’s 
secretary  " the  softest  refusal  imaginable.”  The  Arch- 
bishop had  not  had  the  advantage  of  perusing  Lord 
Macaulay’s  remarks  on  the  difference  between  the  policy 

Hi.]  AT  OLNEY— MR.  NEWTON.  39 

of  the  Church  of  England  and  that  of  the  Church  of 
Koine,  with  regard  to  the  utilization  of  religious  enthu- 
siasts. In  the  end  Newton  was  ordained  by  the  Bishop 
of  Lincoln,  and  threw  himself  with  the  energy  of  a new- 
born apostle  upon  the  irreligion  and  brutality  of  Olney. 
No  Carthusian’s  breast  could  glow  more  intensely  with 
the  zeal  which  is  the  offspring  of  remorse.  Newton  was 
a Calvinist  of  course,  though  it  seems  not  an  extreme  one, 
otherwise  he  would  probably  have  confirmed  Cowper  in 
the  darkest  of  hallucinations.  His  religion  was  one  of 
mystery  and  miracle,  full  of  sudden  conversions,  special 
providences  and  satanic  visitations.  He  himself  says  that 
“ his  name  was  up  about  the  country  for  preaching  people 
mad  it  is  true  that  in  the  eyes  of  the  profane  Methodism 
itself  was  madness ; but  he  goes  on  to  say  “ whether  it 
is  owing  to  the  sedentary  life  the  women  live  here,  poring 
over  their  (lace)  pillows  for  ten  or  twelve  hours  every  day, 
and  breathing  confined  air  in  their  crowded  little  rooms, 
or  whatever  may  be  the  immediate  cause,  I suppose  we 
have  near  a dozen  in  different  degrees  disordered  in  their 
heads,  and  most  of  them  I believe  truly  gracious  people.” 
He  surmises  that  “ these  things  are  permitted  in  judg- 
ment, that  they  who  seek  occasion  for  cavilling  and 
stumbling  may  have  what  they  want.”  Nevertheless 
there  were  in  him  not  only  force,  courage,  burning  zeal 
for  doing  good,  but  great  kindness,  and  even  tenderness 
of  heart.  “I  see  in  this  world,”  he  said,  “two  heaps  of 
human  happiness  and  misery ; now  if  I can  take  but  the 
smallest  bit  from  one  heap  and  add  it  to  the  other  I carry 
a point — if,  as  I go  home,  a child  has  dropped  a half- 
penny, and  by  giving  it  another  I can  wipe  away  its 
tears,  I feel  I have  done  something.”  There  was  even 




in  him  a strain,  if  not  of  humour,  of  a shrewdness  which 
was  akin  to  it,  and  expressed  itself  in  many  pithy  sayings. 
“ If  two  angels  came  down  from  heaven  to  execute  a 
divine  command,  and  one  was  appointed  to  conduct  an 
empire  and  the  other  to  sweep  a street  in  it,  they  would 
feel  no  inclination  to  change  employments.”  “ A Chris- 
tian should  never  plead  spirituality  for  being  a sloven ; 
if  he  he  hut  a shoe- cleaner,  he  should  he  the  best  in  the 
parish.”  “ My  principal  method  for  defeating  heresy  is 
by  establishing  truth.  One  proposes  to  fill  a bushel  with 
tares  ; now  if  I can  fill  it  first  with  wheat,  I shall  defy 
his  attempts.”  That  his  Calvinism  was  not  very  dark 
or  sulphureous,  seems  to  he  shown  from  his  repeating 
with  gusto  the  saying  of  one  of  the  old  women  of  Olney 
when  some  preacher  dwelt  on  the  doctrine  of  predes- 
tination— “Ah,  I have  long  settled  that  point;  for  if 
God  had  not  chosen  me  before  I was  horn,  I am  sure  he 
would  have  seen  nothing  to  have  chosen  me  for  after- 
wards.” That  he  had  too  much  sense  to  take  mere 
profession  for  religion  appears  from  his  describing  the 
Calvinists  of  Olney  as  of  two  sorts,  which  reminded  him 
of  the  two  baskets  of  Jeremiah’s  figs.  The  iron  con- 
stitution which  had  carried  him  through  so  many  hard- 
ships, enabled  him  to  continue  in  his  ministry  to  extreme 
old  age.  A friend  at  length  counselled  him  to  stop 
before  he  found  himself  stopped  by  being  able  to  speak 
no  longer.  “I  cannot  stop,”  he  said,  raising  his  voice. 
“ What ! shall  the  old  African  blasphemer  stop  while  he 
can  speak  ? ” 

At  the  instance  of  a common  friend,  Newton  had  paid 
Mrs.  Unwin  a visit  at  Huntingdon,  after  her  husband’s 
death,  and  had  at  once  established  the  ascendancy  of  a 




powerful  character  over  her  and  Cowper.  He  now 
beckoned  the  pair  to  his  side,  placed  them  in  the  house 
adjoining  his  own,  and  opened  a private  door  between 
the  two  gardens,  so  as  to  have  his  spiritual  children 
always  beneath  his  eye.  Under  this,  in  the  most  essential 
respect,  unhappy  influence,  Cowper  and  Mrs.  Unwin 
together  entered  on  “ a decided  course  of  Christian  happi- 
ness. That  is  to  say  they  spent  all  their  days  in  a round 
of  religious  exercises  without  relaxation  or  relief.  On  fine 
summer  evenings,  as  the  sensible  Lady  Hesketh  saw  with 
dismay,  instead  of  a walk,  there  was  a prayer-meeting. 
Cowper  himself  was  made  to  do  violence  to  his  intense 
shyness  by  leading  in  prayer.  He  was  also  made  to  visit 
the  poor  at  once  on  spiritual  missions,  and  on  that  of 
almsgiving,  for  which  Thornton,  the  religious  philanthro- 
pist, supplied  Newton  and  his  disciples  with  means. 
This,  which  Southey  appears  to  think  about  the  worst 
part  of  Newton’s  regimen,  was  probably  its  redeeming 
feature.  The  effect  of  doing  good  to  others  on  any  mind 
was  sure  to  be  good ; and  the  sight  of  real  suffering  was 
likely  to  banish  fancied  ills.  Cowper  in  this  way  gained 
at  all  events  a practical  knowledge  of  the  poor,  and 
learned  to  do  them  justice,  though  from  a rather  too 
theological  point  of  view.  Seclusion  from  the  sinful 
world  was  as  much  a part  of  the  system  of  Mr.  Newton, 
as  it  was  of  the  system  of  Saint  Benedict.  Cowper  was 
almost  entirely  cut  off  from  intercourse  with  his  friends 
and  people  of  his  own  class.  He  dropped  his  correspon- 
dence even  with  his  beloved  cousin,  Lady  Hesketh,  and 
would  probably  have  dropped  his  correspondence  with 
Hill,  had  not  Hill’s  assistance  in  money  matters  been 
indispensable.  To  complete  his  mental  isolation  it  appears 




that  having  sold  his  library  he  had  scarcely  any  books. 
Such  a course, of  Christian  happiness  as  this  could  only 
end  in  one  way ; and  Newton  himself  seems  to  have  had 
the  sense  to  see  that  a storm  was  brewing,  and  that  there 
was  no  way  of  conjuring  it  but  by  contriving  some  more 
congenial  occupation.  So  the  disciple  was  commanded 
to  employ  his  poetical  gifts  in  contributing  to  a hymn- 
book  which  Newton  was  compiling.  Cowper’s  Olney 
hymns  have  not  any  serious  value  as  poetry.  Hymns 
rarely  have.  The  relations  of  man  with  Deity  transcend 
and  repel  poetical  treatment.  There  is  nothing  in  them 
on  which  the  creative  imagination  can  be  exercised. 
Hymns  can  be  little  more  than  incense  of  the  worship- 
ping soul.  Those  of  the  Latin  church  are  the  best ; not 
because  they  are  better  poetry  than  the  rest  (for  they  are 
not),  but  because  their  language  is  the  most  sonorous. 
Cowper’s  hymns  were  accepted  by  the  religious  body 
for  which  they  were  written,  as  expressions  of  its  spiritual 
feeling  and  desires ; so  far  they  were  successful.  They 
are  the  work  of  a religious  man  of  culture,  and  free 
from  anything  wild,  erotic,  or  unctuous.  But  on  the 
other  hand  there  is  nothing  in  them  suited  to  be  the 
vehicle  of  lofty  devotion,  nothing,  that  we  can  con- 
ceive a multitude  or  even  a prayer-meeting  uplifting  to 
heaven  with  voice  and  heart.  Southey  has  pointed  to 
some  passages  on  which  the  shadow  of  the  advancing 
malady  falls ; but  in  the  main  there  is  a predominance 
of  religious  joy  and  hope.  The  most  despondent  hymn 
of  the  series  is  Temptation , the  thought  of  which  resembles 
that  of  The  Castaway . 

Cowper’s  melancholy  may  have  been  aggravated  by  the 
loss  of  his  only  brother,  who  died  about  this  time,  and 




at  whoso  death-bed  he  was  present ; though  in  the  narra- 
tive which  he  wrote,  joy  at  John’s  conversion  and  the 
religious  happiness  of  his  end  seems  to  exclude  the 
feelings  by  which  hypochondria  was  likely  to  be  fed. 
But  his  mode  of  life  under  Newton  was  enough 
to  account  for  the  return  of  his  disease,  which  in  this 
sense  may  be  fairly  laid  to  the  charge  of  religion.  He 
again  went  mad,  fancied  as  before  that  he  was  rejected 
of  heaven,  ceased  to  pray  as  one  helplessly  doomed,  and 
again  attempted  suicide.  Newton  and  Mrs.  Unwin  at  first 
treated  the  disease  as  a diabolical  visitation,  and  “ with 
deplorable  consistency,”  to  borrow  the  phrase  used  by  one 
of  their  friends  in  the  case  of  Cowper’s  desperate  absti- 
nence from  prayer,  abstained  from  calling  in  a physician. 
Of  this  again  their  religion  must  bear  the  reproach.  In 
other  respects  they  behaved  admirably.  Mrs.  Unwin,  shut 
up  for  sixteen  months  with  her  unhappy  partner,  tended 
him  with  unfailing  love ; alone  she  did  it,  for  he  could 
bear  no  one  else  about  him;  though  to  make  her  part 
more  trying  he  had  conceived  the  insane  idea  that  she 
hated  him.  Seldom  has  a stronger  proof  been  given  of 
the  sustaining  power  of  affection.  Assuredly  of  what- 
ever Cowper  may  have  afterwards  done  for  his  kind,  a 
great  part  must  be  set  down  to  the  credit  of  Mrs. 

Mary ! I want  a lyre  with  other  strings, 

Such  aid  from  heaven  as  some  have  feigned  they  drew, 

An  eloquence  scarce  given  to  mortals,  new 
And  undebased  by  praise  of  meaner  things, 

That,  ere  through  age  or  woe  I shed  my  wings, 

I may  record  thy  worth  with  honour  due, 

In  verse  as  musical  as  thou  art  true, 

And  that  immortalizes  whom  it  sings. 




But  thou  hast  little  need.  There  is  a book 
By  seraphs  writ  with  beams  of  heavenly  light, 

On  which  the  eyes  of  God  not  rarely  look, 

A chronicle  of  actions  just  and  bright ; 

There  all  thy  deeds,  my  faithful  Mary  shine, 

And,  since  thou  own’st  that  praise,  I spare  thee  mine. 

Newton’s  friendship  too  was  sorely  tried.  In  the 
midst  of  the  malady  the  lunatic  took  it  into  his  head  to 
transfer  himself  from  his  own  house  to  the  Vicarage,  which 
he  obstinately  refused  to  leave;  and  Newton  bore  this 
infliction  for  several  months  without  repining,  though  he 
might  well  pray  earnestly  for  his  friend’s  deliverance. 
“ The  Lord  has  numbered  the  days  in  which  I am 
appointed  to  wait  on  him  in  this  dark  valley,  and  he  has 
given  us  such  a love  to  him,  both  as  a believer  and  a 
friend,  that  I am  not  weary  ; hut  to  be  sure  his  deliver- 
ance would  be  to  me  one  of  the  greatest  blessings  my 
thoughts  can  conceive.”  Dr.  Cotton  was  at  last  called 
in,  and  under  his  treatment,  evidently  directed  against 
a bodily  disease,  Cowper  was  at  length  restored  to  sanity. 

Newton  once  compared  his  own  walk  in  the  world  to 
that  of  a physician  going  through  Bedlam.  But  he  was 
not  skilful  in  his  treatment  of  the  literally  insane.  He 
thought  to  cajole  Cowper  out  of  his  cherished  horrors  by 
calling  his  attention  to  a case  resembling  his  own.  The 
case  was  that  of  Simon  Browne,  a Dissenter,  who  had 
conceived  the  idea  that,  being  under  the  displeasure  of 
Heaven,  he  had  been  entirely  deprived  of  his  rational 
being  and  left  with  merely  his  animal  nature.  He  had 
accordingly  resigned  his  ministry,  and  employed  himself 
in  compiling  a dictionary,  which,  he  said,  was  doing 
nothing  that  could  require  a reasonable  soul.  He  seems 

in.]  AT  OLNEY— MR.  NEWTON.  45 

to  have  thought  that  theology  fell  under  the  same  cate- 
gory, for  he  proceeded  to  write  some  theological  treatises, 
which  he  dedicated  to  Queen  Caroline,  calling  her 
Majesty's  attention  to  the  singularity  of  the  authorship  as 
the  most  remarkable  phenomenon  of  her  reign.  Cowper, 
however,  instead  of  falling  into  the  desired  train  of  rea- 
soning, and  being  led  to  suspect  the  existence  of  a similar 
illusion  in  himself,  merely  rejected  the  claim  of  the  pre- 
tended rival  in  spiritual  affliction,  declaring  his  own  case 
to  be  far  the  more  deplorable  of  the  two. 

Before  the  decided  course  of  Christian  happiness  had 
time  again  to  culminate  in  madness,  fortunately  for  Cow- 
per, Newton  left  Olney  for  St.  Mary  Woolnoth.  He  was 
driven  away  at  last  by  a quarrel  with  his  barbarous 
parishioners,  the  cause  of  which  did  him  credit.  A fire 
broke  out  at  Olney,  and  burnt  a good  many  of  its  straw- 
thatched  cottages.  Newton  ascribed  the  extinction  of  the 
fire  rather  to  prayer  than  water,  but  he  took  the  lead  in 
practical  measures  of  relief,  and  tried  to  remove  the 
earthly  cause  of  such  visitations  by  putting  an  end  to 
bonfires  and  illuminations  on  the  5 th  of  November. 
Threatened  with  the  loss  of  their  Guy  Fawkes,  the  bar- 
barians rose  upon  him,  and  he  had  a narrow  escape  from 
their  violence.  We  are  reminded  of  the  case  of  Cotton 
Mather,  who,  after  being  a leader  in  witch-burning, 
nearly  sacrificed  his  life  in  combatting  the  fanaticism 
which  opposed  itself  to  the  introduction  of  inoculation. 
Let  it  always  be  remembered  that  besides  its  theo- 
logical side,  the  Bevival  had  its  philanthropic  and  moral 
side;  that  it  abolished  the  slave  trade,  and  at  last  slavery ; 
that  it  waged  war,  and  effective  war,  under  the  standard 
of  the  gospel,  upon  masses  of  vice  and  brutality,  which 




had  been  totally  neglected  by  the  torpor  of  the  Establish- 
ment ; that  among  large  classes  of  the  people  it  was  the 
great  civilizing  agency  of  the  time. 

Newton  was  succeeded  as  curate  of  Olney  by  his  dis- 
ciple, and  a man  of  somewhat  the  same  cast  of  mind  and 
character,  Thomas  Scott  the  writer  of  the  Commentary  on 
the  Bible  and  The  Force  of  Truth . To  Scott  Cowper 
seems  not  to  have  greatly  taken.  He  complains  that,  as 
a preacher,  he  is  always  scolding  the  congregation.  Per- 
haps Newton  had  foreseen  that  it  would  be  so,  for  he 
specially  commended  the  spiritual  son  whom  he  was 
leaving,  to  the  care  of  the  Eev.  William  Bull,  of  the 
neighbouring  town  of  Newport  Pagnell,  a dissenting 
minister,  but  a member  of  a spiritual  connexion  which 
did  not  stop  at  the  line  of  demarcation  between  Noncon- 
formity and  the  Establishment.  To  Bull  Cowper  did 
greatly  take  ; he  extols  him  as  “ a Dissenter,  but  a liberal 
one,”  a man  of  letters  and  of  genius,  master  of  a fine 
imagination — or,  rather,  not  master  of  it — and  addresses 
him  as  Carissime  Taurorum.  It  is  rather  singular  that 
Newton  should  have  given  himself  such  a successor. 
Bull  was  a great  smoker,  and  had  made  himself  a cozy 
and  secluded  nook  in  his  garden  for  the  enjoyment  of  his 
pipe.  He  was  probably  something  of  a spiritual  as  well 
as  of  a physical  Quietist,  for  he  set  Cowper  to  translate 
the  poetry  of  the  great  exponent  of  Quietism,  Madame 
Guyon.  The  theme  of  all  the  pieces  which  Cowper  has 
translated  is  the  same — Divine  Love  and  the  raptures  of 
the  heart  that  enjoys  it — the  blissful  union  of  the  drop 
with  the  Ocean — the  Evangelical  Nirvana.  If  this  line 
of  thought  was  not  altogether  healthy,  or  conducive  to 
the  vigorous  performance  of  practical  duty,  it  was  at  all 




events  better  than  the  dark  fancy  of  Reprobation.  In 
his  admiration  of  Madame  Guyon,  her  translator  showed 
his  affinity,  and  that  of  Protestants  of  the  same  school,  to 
Fenelon  and  the  Evangelical  element  which  has  lurked  in 
the  Roman  Catholic  church  since  the  days  of  Thomas  & 



Since  his  recovery,  Cowper  had  been  looking  out  for 
what  he  most  needed,  a pleasant  occupation.  He  tried 
drawing,  carpentering,  gardening.  Of  gardening  he  had 
always  been  fond ; and  he  understood  it  as  shown  by  the 
loving  though  somewhat  “ stercoraceous  ” minuteness  of 
some  passages  in  The  Task . A little  greenhouse,  used  as 
a parlour  in  summer,  where  he  sat  surrounded  by  beauty 
and  fragrance,  and  lulled  by  pleasant  sounds,  was  another 
product  of  the  same  pursuit,  and  seems  almost  Elysian 
in  that  dull  dark  life.  He  also  found  amusement  in 
keeping  tame  hares,  and  he  fancied  that  he  had  reconciled 
the  hare  to  man  and  dog.  His  three  tame  hares  are 
among  the  canonized  pets  of  literature,  and  they  were  to 
his  genius  what  “ Sailor”  was  to  the  genius  of  Byron.  But 
Mrs.  Unwin,  who  had  terrible  reason  for  studying  his 
case,  saw  that  the  thing  most  wanted  was  congenial  em 
ployment  for  the  mind,  and  she  incited  him  to  try  his 
hand  at  poetry  on  a larger  scale.  He  listened  to  her 
advice,  and  when  he  was  nearly  fifty  years  of  age  became 
a poet.  He  had  acquired  the  faculty  of  verse-writing,  as 
we  have  seen ; he  had  even  to  some  extent  formed  his 
manner  when  he  was  young.  Age  must  by  this  time 
have  quenched  his  fire,  and  tamed  his  imagination,  so 

CH.  IV.] 



that  the  didactic  style  would  suit  him  best.  In  the 
length  of  the  interval  between  his  early  poems  and  his 
great  work  he  resembles  Milton ; hut  widely  different  in 
the  two  cases  had  been  the  current  of  the  intervening  years. 

Poetry  written  late  in  life  is  of  course  free  from  youth- 
ful crudity  and  extravagance.  It  also  escapes  the  youth- 
ful tendency  to  imitation.  Cowper’s  authorship  is  ushered 
in  by  Southey  with  a history  of  English  poetry  ; but 
this  is  hardly  in  place ; Cowper  had  little  connexion 
with  anything  before  him.  Even  his  knowledge  of  poetry 
was  not  great.  In  his  youth  he  had  read  the  great  poets, 
and  had  studied  Milton  especially  with  the  ardour  of 
intense  admiration.  Nothing  ever  made  him  so  angry  as 
Johnson’s  Life  of  Milton.  “ Oh  !”  he  cries,  “I  could 
thrash  his  old  jacket  till  I made  his  pension  jingle  in 
his  pocket.”  Churchill  had  made  a great — far  too  great 
— an  impression  on  him,  when  he  was  a Templar.  Of 
Churchill,  if  of  anybody,  he  must  be  regarded  as  a fol- 
lower, though  only  in  his  earlier  and  less  successful  poems. 
In  expression  he  always  regarded  as  a model  the  neat 
and  gay  simplicity  of  Prior.  But  so  little  had  he  kept 
up  his  reading  of  anything  but  sermons  and  hymns,  that 
he  learned  for  the  first  time  from  Johnson’s  Lives  the 
existence  of  Collins.  (He  is  the  offspring  of  the  Religious 
Revival  rather  than  of  any  school  of  art.  His  most  im- 
portant relation  to  any  of  his  predecessors  is,  in  fact,  one 
of  antagonism  to  the  hard  glitter  of  Pope. 

In  urging  her  companion  to  write  poetry,  Mrs.  Unwin 
was  on  the  right  path ; her  puritanism  led  her  astray  in 
the  choice  of  a theme.  She  suggested  The  Progress  of 
Error  as  a subject  for  a “ Moral  Satire.”  It  was  un- 
happily adopted,  and  The  Progress  of  Error  was  followed 





by  Truth , Table  Talk , Expostulation , Hope,  Charity , 
Conversation , and  Retirement . When  the  series  was 
published,  Table  Talk  was  put  first,  being  supposed  to  be 
the  lightest  and  the  most  attractive  to  an  unregenerate 
world.  The  judgment  passed  upon  this  set  of  poems  at 
the  time  by  the  Critical  Review  seems  blasphemous  to 
the  fond  biographer,  and  is  so  devoid  of  modern  smart- 
ness as  to  be  almost  interesting  as  a literary  fossil.  But 
it  must  be  deemed  essentially  just,  though  the  reviewer 
errs,  as  many  reviewers  have  erred,  in  measuring  the  writer's 
capacity  by  the  standard  of  his  first  performance.  “ These 
poems,"  said  the  Critical  Review , “are  written,  as  we  learn 
from  the  title-page,  by  Mr.  Cowper  of  the  Inner  Temple, 
who  seems  to  be  a man  of  a sober  and  religious  turn  of 
mind,  with  a benevolent  heart,  and  a serious  wish  to 
inculcate  the  precepts  of  morality ; he  is  not,  how- 
ever, possessed  of  any  superior  abilities  or  the  power  of 
genius  requisite  for  so  arduous  an  undertaking.  .... 
He  says  what  is  incontrovertible  and  what  has  been 
said  over  and  over  again  with  much  gravity,  but  says 
nothing  new,  sprightly  or  entertaining;  travelling  on  a 
plain  level  flat  road,  with  great  composure  almost  through 
the  whole  long  and  tedious  volume,  which  is  little  better 
than  a dull  sermon  in  very  indifferent  verse  on  Truth, 
the  Progress  of  Error,  Charity,  and  some  other  grave 
subjects.  If  this  author  had  followed  the  advice  given 
by  Caraccioli,  and  which  he  has  chosen  for  one  of  the 
mottoes  prefixed  to  these  poems,  he  would  have  clothed 
his  indisputable  truths  in  some  more  becoming  disguise, 
and  rendered  his  work  much  more  agreeable.  In  its 
present  shape  we  cannot  compliment  him  on  its  beauty ; 
for  as  this  bard  himself  sweetly  sings  : — 




The  clear  harangue,  and  cold  as  it  is  clear, 

Falls  soporific  on  the  listless  ear.” 

In  justice  to  the  bard  it  ought  to  he  said  that  he  wrote 
under  the  eye  of  the  Rev.  John  Newton,  to  whom  the 
design  had  been  duly  submitted,  and  who  had  given  his 
imprimatur  in  the  shape  of  a preface  which  took  Johnson 
the  publisher  aback  by  its  gravity.  Newton  would  not 
have  sanctioned  any  poetry  which  had  not  a distinctly 
religious  object,  and  he  received  an  assurance  from  the 
poet  that  the  lively  passages  were  introduced  only  as 
honey  on  the  rim  of  the  medicinal  cup,  to  commend  its 
healing  contents  to  the  lips  of  a giddy  world.  The  Rev. 
John  Newton  must  have  been  exceedingly  austere  if  he 
thought  that  the  quantity  of  honey  used  was  excessive. 

A genuine  desire  to  make  society  better  is  always  pre- 
sent in  these  poems,  and  its  presence  lends  them  the 
only  interest  which  they  possess  except  as  historical 
monuments  of  a religious  movement.  Of  satirical  vigour 
they  have  scarcely  a semblance.  There  are  three  kinds 
of  satire,  corresponding  to  as  many  different  views  of 
humanity  and  life ; the  Stoical,  the  Cynical,  and  the  Epi- 
curean. Of  Stoical  satire,  with  its  strenuous  hatred  of 
vice  and  wrong,  the  type  is  Juvenal.  Of  Cynical  satire, 
springing  from  bitter  contempt  of  humanity,  the  type  is 
Swift’s  Gulliver,  while  its  quintessence  is  embodied  in 
his  lines  on  the  Day  of  Judgment.  Of  Epicurean  satire, 
flowing  from  a contempt  of  humanity  which  is  not  bitter, 
and  lightly  playing  with  the  weakness  and  vanities  of 
mankind,  Horace  is  the  classical  example.  To  the  first 
two  kinds,  Cowper’s  nature  was  totally  alien,  and  when 
he  attempts  anything  in  either  of  those  lines,  the  only 




result  is  a querulous  and  censorious  acerbity,  in  which 
his  real  feelings  had  no  part,  and  which  on  mature  re- 
flection offended  his  own  better  taste.  In  the  Horatian 
kind  he  might  have  excelled,  as  the  episode  of  the  Retired 
Statesman  in.  one  of  these  poems  shows.  He  might  have 
excelled,  that  is,  if  like  Horace  he  had  known  the  world. 
But  he  did  not  know  the  world.  He  saw  the  “ great 
Babel  ” only  “ through  the  loopholes  of  retreat,”  and  in  the 
columns  of  his  weekly  newspaper.  Even  during  the  years, 
long  past,  which  he  spent  in  the  world,  his  experience 
had  been  confined  to  a small  literary  circle.  Society  was 
to  him  an  abstraction  on  which  he  discoursed  like  a 
pulpiteer.  His  satiric  whip  not  only  has  no  lash,  it  is 
brandished  in  the  air. 

No  man  was  ever  less  qualified  for  the  office  of  a censor; 
his  judgment  is  at  once  disarmed,  and  a breach  in  his 
principles  is  at  once  made  by  the  slightest  personal  in- 
fluence. Bishops  are  bad ; they  are  like  the  Cretans, 
evil  beasts  and  slow  bellies  • but  the  bishop  whose  brother 
Cowper  knows  is  a blessing  to  the  Church.  Deans  and 
Canons  are  lazy  sinecurists,  but-  there  is  a bright  exception 
in  the  case  of  the  Cowper  who  held  a golden  stall  at 
Durham.  Grinding  India  is  criminal,  but  Warren  Hastings 
is  acquitted,  because  he  was  with  Cowper  at  Westminster. 
Discipline  was  deplorably  relaxed  in  all  colleges  except 
that  of  which  Cowper’s  brother  was  a fellow.  Pluralities 
and  resignation  bonds,  the  grossest  abuses  of  the  Church, 
were  perfectly  defensible  in  the  case  of  any  friend  or 
acquaintance  of  this  Church  Reformer.  Bitter  lines 
against  Popery  inserted  in  The  Task  were  struck  out, 
because  the  writer  had  made  the  acquaintance  of  Mr.  and 
Mrs.  Throckmorton,  who  were  Roman  Catholics.  Smoking 




was  detestable,  except  when  practised  by  dear  Mr.  Bull. 
Even  gambling,  the  blackest  sin  of  fashionable  society,  is 
not  to  prevent  Fox,  the  great  Whig,  from  being  a ruler  in 
Israel.  Besides,  in  all  his  social  judgments,  Cowper  is 
at  a wrong  point  of  view.  He  is  always  deluded  by  the 
idol  of  his  cave.  He  writes  perpetually  on  the  twofold 
assumption  that  a life  of  retirement  is  more  favourable 
to  virtue  than  a life  of  action,  and  that  “God  made 
the  country,  while  man  made  the  town.”  Both  parts 
of  the  assumption  are  untrue.  A life  of  action  is  more 
favourable  to  virtue,  as  a rule,  than  a life  of  retirement, 
and  the  development  of  humanity  is  higher  and  richer, 
as  a rule,  in  the  town  than  in  the  country.  If  Cowper’s 
retirement  was  virtuous,  it  was  so  because  he  was  actively 
employed  in  the  exercise  of  his  highest  faculties  : had 
he  been  a mere  idler,  secluded  from  his  kind,  his  re- 
tirement would  not  have  been  virtuous  at  all.  His 
flight  from  the  world  was  rendered  necessary  by  his 
malady,  and  respectable  by  his  literary  work ; but  it  was 
a flight  and  not  a victory.  His  misconception  was  fostered 
and  partly  produced  by  a religion  which  was  essentially 
ascetic,  and  which,  while  it  gave  birth  to  characters  of  the 
highest  and  most  energetic  beneficence,  represented  salva- 
tion too  little  as  the  reward  of  effort,  too  much  as  the 
reward  of  passive  belief  and  of  spiritual  emotion. 

The  most  readable  of  the  Moral  Satires  is  Retirement , 
in  which  the  writer  is  op  his  own  ground  expressing  his 
genuine  feelings,  and  which  is,  in  fact,  a foretaste  of  The 
Task.  Expostulation , a warning  to  England  from  the 
example  of  the  Jews,  is  the  best  constructed : the  rest  are 
totally  wanting  in  unity,  and  even  in  connexion.  In  ail 
there  are  flashes  of  epigrammatic  smartness. 




How  shall  I speak  thee,  or  thy  power  address, 

Thou  God  of  our  idolatry,  the  press  ? 

By  thee,  religion,  liberty,  and  laws 

Exert  their  influence,  and  advance  their  cause ; 

By  thee,  worse  plagues  than  Pharaoh’s  land  befel, 

Diffused,  make  earth  the  vestibule  of  hell : 

Thou  fountain,  at  which  drink  the  good  and  wise, 

Thou  ever-bubbling  spring  of  endless  lies, 

Like  Eden’s  dread  probationary  tree, 

Knowledge  of  good  and  evil  is  from  thee. 

Occasionally  there  are  passages  of  higher  merit.  The 
episode  of  statesmen  in  Retirement  has  been  already  men- 
tioned. The  lines  on  the  two  disciples  going  to  Emmaus 
in  Conversation , though  little  more  than  a paraphrase  of 
the  Gospel  narrative,  convey  pleasantly  the  Evangelical 
idea  of  the  Divine  Friend.  Cowper  says  in  one  of  his 
letters  that  he  had  been  intimate  with  a man  of  fine  taste 
who  had  confessed  to  him  that  though  he  could  not  sub- 
scribe to  the  truth  of  Christianity  itself,  he  could  never 
read  this  passage  of  St.  Luke  without  being  deeply  affected 
by  it,  and  feeling  that  if  the  stamp  of  divinity  was  im- 
pressed upon  anything  in  the  Scriptures,  it  was  upon  that 

It  happen’d  on  a solemn  eventide, 

Soon  after  He  that  was  our  surety  died, 

Two  bosom  friends,  each  pensively  inclined, 

The  scene  of  all  those  sorrows  left  behind, 

Sought  their  own  village,  busied  as  they  went 
In  musings  worthy  of  the  great  event : 

They  spake  of  him  they  loved,  of  him  whose  life, 

Though  blameless,  had  incurr’d  perpetual  strife, 

Whose  deeds  had  left,  in  spite  of  hostile  arts, 

A deep  memorial  graven  on  their  hearts. 

The  recollection,  like  a vein  of  ore, 

The  farther  traced  enrich’d  them  still  the  more ; 




They  thought  him,  and  they  justly  thought  him,  ono 
Sent  to  do  more  than  he  appear’d  to  have  done, 

To  exalt  a people,  and  to  place  them  high 
Above  all  else,  and  wonder’d  he  should  die. 

Ere  yet  they  brought  their  journey  to  an  end, 

A stranger  join’d  them,  courteous  as  a friend, 

And  ask’d  them  with  a kind  engaging  air 
What  their  affliction  was,  and  begg’d  a share. 

Inform’d,  he  gather’d  up  the  broken  thread, 

And  truth  and  wisdom  gracing  all  he  said, 

Explain’d,  illustrated,  and  search’d  so  well 
The  tender  theme  on  which  they  chose  to  dwell, 

That  reaching  home,  the  night,  they  said  is  near, 

We  must  not  now  be  parted,  sojourn  here. — 

The  new  acquaintance  soon  became  a guest, 

And  made  so  welcome  at  their  simple  feast, 

He  bless’d  the  bread,  but  vanish’d  at  the  word, 

And  left  them  both  exclaiming,  ’Twas  the  Lord  ! 

Did  not  our  hearts  feel  all  he  deign’d  to  say, 

Did  they  not  burn  within  us  by  the  way  ? 

The  prude  going  to  morning  church  in  Truth  is  a good 
rendering  of  Hogarth’s  picture  : — 

Yon  ancient  prude,  whose  wither’d  features  show 
She  might  be  young  some  forty  years  ago, 

Her  elbows  pinion’d  close  upon  her  hips, 

Her  head  erect,  her  fan  upon  her  lips, 

Her  eyebrows  arch’d,  her  eyes  both  gone  astray 
To  watch  yon  amorous  couple  in  their  play, 

With  bony  and  unkerchief’d  neck  defies 
The  rude  inclemency  of  wintry  skies, 

And  sails  with  lappet-head  and  mincing  airs 
Daily  at  clink  of  bell,  to  morning  prayers. 

To  thrift  and  parsimony  much  inclined. 

She  yet  allows  herself  that  boy  behind ; 

The  shivering  urchin,  bending  as  he  goes, 

With  slipshod  heels,  and  dew-drop  at  his  nose* 

His  predecessor’s  coat  advanced  to  wear, 

Which  future  pages  are  yet  doom’d  to  share ; 




Carries  her  Bible  tuck’d  beneath  his  arm, 

And  hides  his  hands  to  keep  his  fingers  warm. 

Of  personal  allusions  there  are  a few ; if  the  satirist 
had  not  been  prevented  from  indulging  in  them  by  his 
taste,  he  would  have  been  debarred  by  his  ignorance. 
Lord  Chesterfield,  as  the  incarnation  of  the  world  and 
the  most  brilliant  servant  of  the  arch-enemy,  comes  in  for 
a lashing  under  the  name  of  Petronius. 

Petronius ! all  the  muses  weep  for  thee, 

But  every  tear  shall  scald  thy  memory. 

The  graces  too,  while  virtue  at  their  shrine 
Lay  bleeding  under  that  soft  hand  of  thine, 

Felt  each  a mortal  stab  in  her  own  breast, 

Abhorr’d  the  sacrifice,  and  cursed  the  priest. 

Thou  polish’d  and  high- finish’d  foe  to  truth. 

Gray -beard  corrupter  of  our  listening  youth, 

To  purge  and  skim  away  the  filth  of  vice, 

That  so  refined  it  might  the  more  entice, 

Then  pour  it  on  the  morals  of  thy  son 
To  taint  his  heart,  was  worthy  of  thine  own . 

This  is  about  the  nearest  approach  to  Juvenal  that  the 
Evangelical  satirist  ever  makes.  In  Hope  there  is  a vehe- 
ment vindication  of  the  memory  of  Whitefield.  It  is 
rather  remarkable  that  there  is  no  mention  of  Wesley. 
But  Cowper  belonged  to  the  Evangelical  rather  than 
to  the  Methodist  section.  It  may  be  doubted  whether 
the  living  Whitefield  would  have  been  much  to  his  taste. 

In  the  versification  of  the  moral  satires  there  are 
frequent  faults,  especially  in  the  earlier  poems  of  the 
series ; though  Cowper’s  power  of  writing  musical  verse 
is  attested  both  by  the  occasional  poems  and  by  The 
Task . 




With  the  Moral  Satires  may  ho  coupled,  though  written 
later,  Tirocinium , or  a Review  of  Schools.  Here  Cowper 
has  the  advantage  of  treating  a subject  which  he.  under- 
stood, about  which  he  felt  strongly,  and  desired  for  a 
• practical  purpose  to  stir  the  feelings  of  his  readers.  He 
set  to  work  in  bitter  earnest.  “ There  is  a sting, ” he 
says,  “ in  verse  that  prose  neither  has  nor  can  have ; and 
I do  not  know  that  schools  in  the  gross,  and  especially 
public  schools,  have  ever  been  so  pointedly  condemned 
before.  But  they  are  become  a nuisance,  a pest,  an 
abomination,  and  it  is  fit  that  the  eyes  and  noses  of  man- 
kind should  be  opened  if  possible  to  perceive  it.”  His 
descriptions  of  the  miseries  which  children  in  his  day 
endured,  and,  in  spite  of  all  our  improvements,  must  still 
to  some  extent  endure  in  boarding  schools,  and  of  the 
effects  of  the  system  in  estranging  boys  from  their  parents 
and  deadening  home  affections,  are  vivid  and  true.  Of 
course  the  Public  School  system  was  not  to  be  overturned 
by  rhyming,  but  the  author  of  Tirocinium  awakened  at- 
tention to  its  faults,  and  probably  did  something  towards 
amending  them.  The  best  lines,  perhaps,  have  been 
already  quoted  in  connexion  with  the  history  of  the 
writer’s  boyhood.  There  are,  however,  other  telling  pas- 
sages such  as  that  on  the  indiscriminate  use  of  emulation 
as  a stimulus  : — 

Our  public  hives  of  puerile  resort 

That  are  of  chief  and  most  approved  report, 

To  such  base  hopes  in  many  a sordid  soul 
Owe  their  repute  in  part,  but  not  the  whole. 

A principle,  whose  proud  pretensions  pass 
Unquestion’d,  though  the  jewel  be  but  glass, 

That  with  a world  not  often  over-nice 
Ranks  as  a virtue,  and  is  yet  a vice, 




Or  rather  a gross  compound,  justly  tried, 

Of  envy,  hatred,  jealousy,  and  pride, 

Contributes  most  perhaps  to  enhance  their  fame, 

* And  Emulation  is  its  precious  name. 

Boys  once  on  fire  with  that  contentious  zeal 
Feel  all. the  rage  that  female  rivals  feel; 

The  prize  of  beauty  in  a woman's  eyes 
Not  brighter  than  in  theirs  the  scholar's  prize. 

The  spirit  of  that  competition  burns 
With  all  varieties  of  ill  by  turns, 

Each  vainly  magnifies  his  own  success, 

Resents  his  fellow's,  wishes  it  were  less, 

Exults  in  his  miscarriage  if  he  fail, 

Deems  his  reward  too  great  if  he  prevail, 

And  labours  to  surpass  him  day  and  night, 

Less  for  improvement,  than  to  tickle  spite. 

The  spur  is  powerful,  and  I grant  its  force  j 
It  pricks  the  genius  forward  in  its  course, 

Allows  short  time  for  play,  and  none  for  sloth, 

And  felt  alike  by  each,  advances  both, 

But  judge  where  so  much  evil  intervenes, 

The  end,  though  plausible,  not  worth  the  means. 

Weigh,  for  a moment,  classical  desert 
Against  a heart  depraved  and  temper  hurt, 

Hurt,  too,  perhaps  for  life,  for  early  wrong 
Done  to  the  nobler  part,  affects  it  long, 

And  you  are  staunch  indeed  in  learning’s  cause, 

If  you  can  crown  a discipline  that  draws 
Such  mischiefs  after  it,  with  much  applause. 

He  might  have  done  more,  if  he  had  been  able  to  point 
to  the  alternative  of  a good  day  school,  as  a combination 
of  home  affections  with  the  superior  teaching  hardly  to 
be  found,  except  in  a large  school,  and  which  Cowper,  in 
drawing  his  comparison  between  the  two  systems,  fails  to 
take  into  account. 

To  the  same  general  class  of  poems  belongs  Anti - 
Thelypthora , which  it  is  due  to  Cowper’s  memory  to  say 




was  not  published  in  his  lifetime.  It  is  an  angry  pas- 
quinade on  an  absurd  book  advocating  polygamy  on 
Biblical  grounds,  by  the  Rev.  Martin  Madan,  Cowper’s 
quondam  spiritual  counsellor.  Alone  among  Cowper’s 
works  it  has  a taint  of  coarseness. 

The  Moral  Satires  pleased  Franklin,  to  whom  their 
social  philosophy  was  congenial,  as  at  a later  day,  in 
common  with  all  Cowper’s  works,  they  pleased  Cobden, 
who  no  doubt  specially  relished  the  passage  in  Charity , 
embodying  the  philanthropic  sentiment  of  Free  Trade. 
There  was  a trembling  consultation  as  to  the  expediency 
of  bringing  the  volume  under  the  notice  of  Johnson. 
“ One  of  his  pointed  sarcasms,  if  he  should  happen  to  be 
displeased,  would  soon  find  its  way  into  all  companies  and 
spoil  the  sale.”  “ I think  it  would  be  well  to  send  in  our 
joint  names,  accompanied  with  a handsome  card,  such  an 
one  as  you  will  know  how  to  fabricate,  and  such  as  may 
predispose  him  to  a favourable  perusal  of  the  book,  by 
coaxing  him  into  a good  temper ; for  he  is  a great  bear, 
with  all  his  learning  and  penetration.”  Fear  prevailed  ; 
but  it  seems  that  the  book  found  its  way  into  the  dictator’s 
hands,  that  his  judgment  on  it  was  kind,  and  that  he 
even  did  something  to  temper  the  wind  of  adverse  criti- 
cism to  the  shorn  lamb.  Yet  parts  of  it  were  likely  to 
incur  his  displeasure  as  a Tory,  as  a Churchman,  and  as 
one  who  greatly  preferred  Fleet  Street  to  the  beauties  of 
nature ; while  with  the  sentimental  misery  of  the  writer, 
he  could  have  had  no  sympathy  whatever.  Of  the  incom- 
pleteness of  Johnson’s  view  of  character  there  could  be  no 
better  instance  than  the  charming  weakness  of  Cowper. 
Thurlow  and  Colman  did  not  even  acknowledge  their 
copies,  and  were  lashed  for  their  breach  of  friendship  with 



[oh.  iy. 

rather  more  vigour  than  the  Moral  Satires  display,  in  The 
Valedictory , which  unluckily  survived  for  posthumous 
publication  when  the  culprits  had  made  their  peace. 

Cowper  certainly  misread  himself  if  he  believed  that 
ambition,  even  literary  ambition,  was  a large  element  in 
his  character.  But  having  published,  he  felt  a keen 
interest  in  the  success  of  his  publication.  Yet  he  took 
its  failure  and  the  adverse  criticism  very  calmly.  With 
all  his  sensitiveness,  from  irritable  and  suspicious  egotism, 
such  as  is  the  most  common  cause  of  moral  madness,  he 
was  singularly  free.  In  this  respect  his  philosophy 
served  him  well. 

It  may  safely  be  said  that  the  Moral  Satires  would 
have  sunk  into  oblivion  if  they  had  not  been  buoyed  up 
by  The  Task. 



Mrs.  Unwin’s  influence  produced  the  Moral  Satires.  The 
Task  was  born  of  a more  potent  inspiration.  One  day 
Mrs.  Jones,  the  wife  of  a neighbouring  clergyman,  came 
into  Olney  to  shop,  and  with  her  came  her  sister,  Lady 
Austen,  the  widow  of  a Baronet,  a woman  of  the  world, 
who  had  lived  much  in  France,  gay,  sparkling  and 
vivacious,  hut  at  the  same  time  full  of  feeling  even  to 
overflowing.  The  apparition  acted  like  magic  on  the 
recluse.  He  desired  Mrs.  Unwin  to  ask  the  two  ladies  to 
stay  to  tea,  then  shrank  from  joining  the  party  which  he 
had  himself  invited,  ended  by  joining  it,  and,  his  shyness 
giving  way  with  a rush,  engaged  in  animated  conversation 
with  Lady  Austen,  and  walked  with  her  part  of  the  way 
home.  On  her  an  equally  great  effect  appears  to  have  been 
produced.  A warm  friendship  at  once  sprang  up,  and  before 
long  Lady  Austen  had  verses  addressed  to  her  as  Sister 
Anne.  Her  ladyship,  on  her  part,  was  smitten  with  a 
great  love  of  retirement,  and  at  the  same  time  with  great 
admiration  for  Mr.  Scott,  the  curate  of  Olney,  as  a 
preacher,  and  she  resolved  to  fit  up  for  herself  u that 
part  of  our  great  building  which  is  at  present  occupied 
by  Dick  Coleman,  his  wife  and  child,  and  a thousand 
rats.”  That  a woman  of  fashion,  accustomed  to  French 




salons,  should  choose  such  an  abode,  with  a pair  of 
Puritans  for  her  only  society,  seems  to  show  that  one 
of  the  Puritans  at  least  must  have  possessed  great  powers 
of  attraction.  Better  quarters  were  found  for  her  in  the 
Vicarage ; and  the  private  way  between  the  gardens, 
which  apparently  had  been  closed  since  Newton’s  de- 
parture, was  opened  again. 

Lady  Austen’s  presence  evidently  wrought  on  Cowper 
like  an  elixir:  “From  a scene  of  the  most  uninterrupted 
retirement,”  he  writes  to  Mrs.  Unwin,  “ we  have  passed 
at  once  into  a state  of  constant  engagement.  Not  that 
our  society  is  much  multiplied ; the  addition  of  an  indi- 
vidual has  made  all  this  difference.  Lady  Austen  and 
we  pass  our  days  alternately  at  each  other’s  Chateau.  In 
the  morning  I walk  with  one  or  other  of  the  ladies,  and 
in  the  evening  wind  thread.  Thus  did  Hercules,  and 
thus  probably  did  Samson,  and  thus  do  I ; and  were  both 
those  heroes  living,  I should  not  fear  to  challenge  them 
to  a trial  of  skill  in  that  business,  or  doubt  to  beat  them 
both.”  It  was  perhaps  while  he  was  winding  thread  that 
Lady  Austen  told  him  the  story  of  John  Gilpin.  He  lay 
awake  at  night  laughing  over  it,  and  next  morning  pro- 
duced the  ballad.  It  soon  became  famous,  and  was  recited 
by  Henderson,  a popular  actor,  on  the  stage,  though,  as  its 
gentility  was  doubtful,  its  author  withheld  his  name.  He 
afterwards  fancied  that  this  wonderful  piece  of  humour 
had  been  written  in  a mood  of  the  deepest  depression. 
Probably  he  had  written  it  in  an  interval  of  high  spirits 
between  two  such  moods.  Moreover  he  sometimes  exag- 
gerated his  own  misery.  He  will  begin  a letter  with  a 
de  profundis , and  towards  the  end  forget  his  sorrows, 
glide  into  commonplace  topics,  and  write  about  them  in 




the  ordinary  strain.  Lady  Austen  inspired  John  Gilpin . 
She  inspired,  it  seems,  the  lines  on  the  loss  of  the  Eoyal 
George.  She  did  more : she  invited  Cowper  to  try  his  / 
hand  at  something  considerable  in  blank  verse.  When 
he  asked  her  for  a subject,  she  was  happier  in  her  choice 
than  the  lady  who  had  suggested  the  Progress  of  Error. 
She  bade  him  take  the  sofa  on  which  she  was  reclining, 
and  which,  sofas  being  then  uncommon,  was  a more 
striking  and  suggestive  object  than  it  would  be  now. 
The  right  chord  was  struck  ; the  subject  was  accepted ; 
and  The  Sofa  grew  into  The  Task  ; the  title  of  the  song 
reminding  us  that  it  was  “commanded  by  the  fair.,,  As 
Paradise  Lost  is  to  militant  Puritanism,  so  is  The  Task 
to  the  religious  movement  of  its  author’s  time.  To  its 
character  as  the  poem  of  a sect  it  no  doubt  owed  and 
still  owes  much  of  its  popularity.  Not  only  did  it  give 
beautiful  and  effective  expression  to  the  sentiments  of  a 
large  religious  party,  but  it  was  about  the  only  poetry 
that  a strict  Methodist  or  Evangelical  could  read ; while 
to  those  whose  worship  was  unritualistic  and  who  were 
debarred  by  their  principles  from  the  theatre  and  the 
concert,  anything  in  the  way  of  art  that  was  not  illicit 
must  have  been  eminently  welcome.  But  The  Task  has 
merits  of  a more  universal  and  enduring  kind.  Its  author 
himself  says  of  it : — “ If  the  work  cannot  boast  a regular 
plan  (in  which  respect,  however,  I do  not  think  it 
altogether  indefensible),  it  may  yet  boast,  that  the  reflec- 
tions are  naturally  suggested  always  by  the  preceding 
passage,  and  that,  except  the  fifth  book,  which  is  rather 
of  a political  aspect,  the  whole  has  one  tendency,  to  dis- 
countenance the  modern  enthusiasm  after  a London  life, 
and  to  recommend  rural  ease  and  leisure  as  friendly  to 




the  cause  of  piety  and  virtue.”  A regular  plan,  assuredly, 
The  Task  has  not.  It  rambles  through  a vast  variety  of 
subjects,  religious,  political,  social,  philosophical,  and 
horticultural,  with  as  little  of  method  as  its  author  used 
in  taking  his  morning  walks.  Nor  as  Mr.  Benham  has 
shown,  are  the  reflections,  as  a rule,  naturally  suggested 
by  the  preceding  passage.  From  the  use  of  a sofa  by  the 
gouty  to  those,  who  being  free  from  gout,  do  not  need 
sofas, — and  so  to  country  walks  and  country  life  is  hardly 
a natural  transition.  It  is  hardly  a natural  transition 
from  the  ice  palace  built  by  a Kussian  despot,  to  despotism 
and  politics  in  general.  But  if  Cowper  deceives  himself 
in  fancying  that  there  is  a plan  or  a close  connexion  of 
parts,  he  is  right  as  to  the  existence  of  a pervading 
tendency.  The  praise  of  retirement  and  of  country  life 
as  most  friendly  to  piety  and  virtue,  is  the  perpetual 
refrain  of  The  Task , if  not  its  definite  theme.  From  this 
idea  immediately  flow  the  best  and  the  most  popular 
passages  : those  which  please  apart  from  anything  peculiar 
to  a religious  school ; those  which  keep  the  poem  alive ; 
those  which  have  found  their  way  into  the  heart  of  the 
nation,  and  intensified  the  taste  for  rural  and  domestic 
happiness,  to  which  they  most  winningly  appeal.  In 
these  Cowper  pours  out  his  inmost  feelings,  with  the 
liveliness  of  exhilaration,  enhanced  by  contrast  with  pre- 
vious misery.  The  pleasures  of  the  country  and  of  home, 
the  walk,  the  garden,  but  above  all  the  “ intimate  de- 
lights ” of  the  winter  evening,  the  snug  parlour,  with  its 
close-drawn  curtains  shutting  out  the  stormy  night,  the 
steaming  and  bubbling  tea-urn,  the  cheerful  circle,  the 
book  read  aloud,  the  newspaper  through  which  we  look 
out  into  the  unquiet  world,  are  painted  by  the  writei 




with  a heartfelt  enjoyment,  which  infects  the  reader. 
These  are  not  the  joys  of  a hero,  nor  are  they  the  joys 
of  an  Alcaeus  “ singing  amidst  the  clash  of  arms,  or  when 
he  had  moored  on  the  wet  shore  his  storm-tost  barque.” 
But  they  are  pure  joys,  and  they  present  themselves  in 
competition  with  those  of  Ranelagh  and  the  Basset  Table, 
which  are  not  heroic  or  even  masculine,  any  more  than 
they  are  pure. 

The  well-known  passages  at  the  opening  of  The  Winter 
Evening , are  the  self -portraiture  of  a soul  in  bliss — such 
bliss  as  that  soul  could  know — and  the  poet  would  have 
found  it  very  difficult  to  depict  to  himself  by  the  utmost 
effort  of  his  religious  imagination  any  paradise  which  he 
would  really  have  enjoyed  more. 

Now  stir  the  fire,  and  close  the  shutters  fast, 
Let  fall  the  curtains,  wheel  the  sofa  round, 

And  while  the  bubbling  and  loud- hissing  urn 
Throws  up  a steamy  column,  and  the  cups 
That  cheer  but  not  inebriate,  wait  on  each, 

So  let  us  welcome  peaceful  evening  in. 

* * * * 

This  folio  of  four  pages,  happy  work  ! 

Which  not  even  critics  criticise,  that  holds 
Inquisitive  attention  while  I read 
Fast  bound  in  chains  of  silence,  which  the  fair, 
Though  eloquent  themselves,  yet  fear  to  break, 
What  is  it  but  a map  of  busy  life, 

Its  fluctuations  and  its  vast  concerns  ? 

* * * * 

’Tis  pleasant  through  the  loop-holes  of  retreat 
To  peep  at  such  a world.  To  see  the  stir 
Of  the  great  Babel  and  not  feel  the  crowd. 

To  hear  the  roar  she  sends  through  all  her  gates 
At  a safe  distance,  where  the  dying  sound 
Falls  a soft  murmur  on  the  injured  ear. 





Thus  sitting  and  surveying  thus  at  ease 
The  globe  and  its  concerns,  I seem  advanced 
To  some  secure  and  more  than  mortal  height, 

That  liberates  and  exempts  me  from  them  all. 

It  turns  submitted  to  my  view,  turns  round 
With  all  its  generations ; I behold 
The  tumult  and  am  still  The  sound  of  war 
Has  lost  its  terrors  ere  it  reaches  me, 

Grieves  but  alarms  me  not.  I mourn  the  pride 
And  avarice  that  make  man  a wolf  to  man, 

Hear  the  faint  echo  of  those  brazen  throats 
By  which  he  speaks  the  language  of  his  heart, 

And  sigh,  but  never  tremble  at  the  sound. 

He  travels  and  expatiates,  as  the  bee 

From  flower  to  flower,  so  he  from  land  to  land ; 

The  manners,  customs,  policy  of  all 
Pay  contribution  to  the  store  he  gleans ; 

He  sucks  intelligence  in  every  clime, 

And  spreads  the  honey  of  his  deep  research 
At  his  return,  a rich  repast  for  me. 

He  travels,  and  I too.  I tread  his  deck, 

Ascend  his  topmast,  through  his  peering  eyes 
Discover  countries,  with  a kindred  heart 
Suffer  his  woes  and  share  in  his  escapes, 

While  fancy,  like  the  finger  of  a clock, 

Runs  the  great  circuit,  and  is  still  at  home. 

Oh  winter  ! ruler  of  the  inverted  year, 

Thy  scatter’d  hair  with  sleet  like  ashes  fill’d, 

Thy  breath  congeal’d  upon  thy  lips,  thy  cheeks 
Fringed  with  a beard  made  white  with  other  snows 
Than  those  of  age ; thy  forehead  wrapt  in  clouds, 
A leafless  branch  thy  sceptre,  and  thy  throne 
A sliding  car  indebted  to  no  wheels, 

And  urged  by  storms  along  its  slippery  way ; 

I love  thee,  all  unlovely  as  thou  seem’st, 

And  dreaded  as  thou  art.  Thou  hold’st  the  sun 
A prisoner  in  the  yet  un dawning  East, 

Shortening  his  journey  between  morn  and  noon, 
And  hurrying  him  impatient  of  his  stay 
Down  to  the  rosy  West.  But  kindly  still 




Compensating  his  loss  with  added  hours 
Of  social  converse  and  instructive  ease, 

And  gathering  at  short  notice  in  one  group 
The  family  dispersed,  and  fixing  thought, 

Not  less  dispersed  by  daylight  and  its  cares. 

I crown  thee  king  of  intimate  delights, 

Fire-side  enjoyments,  home-bom  happiness, 

And  all  the  comforts  that  the  lowly  roof 
Of  undisturb’d  retirement,  and  the  hours 
Of  long  uninterrupted  evening  know. 

The  writer  of  The  Task  also  deserves  the  crown  which 
he  has  himself  claimed  as  a close  observer  and  truthful 
painter  of  nature.  In  this  respect,  he  challenges  com- 
parison with  Thomson.  The  range  of  Thomson  is  far 
wider ; he  paints  nature  in  all  her  moods,  Cowper  only 
in  a few  and  those  the  gentlest,  though  he  has  said  of 
himself  that  “he  was  always  an  admirer  of  thunder- 
storms, even  before  he  knew  whose  voice  he  heard  in 
them,  but  especially  of  thunder  rolling  over  the  great 
waters.”  The  great  waters  he  had  not  seen  for  many 
years  ; he  had  never,  so  far  as  we  know,  seen  mountains, 
hardly  even  high  hills  ; his  only  landscape  was  the  flat 
country  watered  by  the  Ouse.  On  the  other  hand  he  is 
perfectly  genuine,  thoroughly  English,  entirely  emanci- 
pated from  false  Arcadianism,  the  yoke  of  which  still 
sits  heavily  upon  Thomson,  whose  “ muse  ” moreover 
is  perpetually  “ wafting  ” him  away  from  the  country  and 
the  climate  which  he  knows  to  countries  and  climates 
which  he  does  not  know,  and  which  he  describes  in  the 
style  of  a prize  poem.  Cowper’s  landscapes,  too,  are 
peopled  with  the  peasantry  of  England ; Thomson’s, 
with  Damons,  Palaemons,  and  Musidoras,  tricked  out  in 
the  sentimental  costume  of  the  sham  idyl.  In  Thomson, 
you  always  find  the  effort  of  the  artist  working  up  a 




description ; in  Cowper,  you  find  no  effort ; the  scene  is 
simply  mirrored  on  a mind  of  great  sensibility  and  high 
pictorial  power. 

And  witness,  dear  companion  of  my  walks, 

Whose  arm  this  twentieth  winter  I perceive 
Fast  lock’d  in  mine,  with  pleasure  such  as  love, 
Confirm’d  by  long  experience  of  thy  worth 
And  well-tried  virtues,  could  alone  inspire — 

Witness  a joy  that  thou  hast  doubled  long. 

Thou  know’st  my  praise  of  nature  most  sincere, 

And  that  my  raptures  are  not  conjured  up 
To  serve  occasions  of  poetic  pomp, 

But  genuine,  and  art  partner  of  them  all. 

How  oft  upon  yon  eminence  our  pace 
Has  slacken’d  to  a pause,  and  we  have  borne 
The  ruffling  wind,  scarce  conscious  that  it  blew, 
While  Admiration,  feeding  at  the  eye, 

And  still  unsated,  dwelt  upon  the  scene ! 

Thence  with  what  pleasure  have  we  just  discerned 
The  distant  plough  slow  moving,  and  beside 
His  labouring  team  that  swerved  not  from  the  track, 
The  sturdy  swain  diminish’d  to  a boy ! 

Here  Ouse,  slow  winding  through  a level  plain 
Of  spacious  meads,  with  cattle  sprinkled  o’er, 
Conducts  the  eye  along  his  sinuous  course 
Delighted.  There,  fast  rooted  in  their  bank, 

Stand,  never  overlook’d,  our  favourite  elms, 

That  screen  the  herdsman’s  solitary  hut ; 

While  far  beyond,  and  overthwart  the  stream, 

That,  as  with  molten  glass,  inlays  the  vale, 

The  sloping  land  recedes  into  the  clouds  ; 

Displaying  on  its  varied  side  the  grace 
Of  hedge-row  beauties  numberless,  square  tower, 
Tall  spire,  from  which  the  sound  of  cheerful  bells 
Just  undulates  upon  the  listening  ear, 

Groves,  heaths,  and  smoking  villages,  remote. 

Scenes  must  be  beautiful,  which,  daily  viewed, 

Please  daily,  and  whose  novelty  survives 
Long  knowledge  and  the  scrutiny  of  years — 

Praise  justly  due  to  those  that  I describe. 




This  is  evidently  genuine  and  spontaneous.  We  stand 
with  Cowper  and  Mrs.  Unwin  on  the  hill  in  the  ruffling 
wind,  like  them,  scarcely  conscious  that  it  blows,  and 
feed  admiration  at  the  eye  upon  the  rich  and  thoroughly 
English  champaign  that  is  outspread  below. 

Nor  rural  sights  alone,  but  rural  sounds, 
Exhilarate  the  spirit,  and  restore 
The  tone  of  languid  Nature.  Mighty  winds, 

That  sweep  the  shirt  of  some  far- spreading  wood 
Of  ancient  growth , make  music  not  unlike 
The  dash  of  Ocean  on  his  winding  shore, 

And  lull  the  spirit  while  they  fill  the  mind  ; 
Unnumber’d  branches  waving  in  the  blast, 

And  all  their  leaves  fast  fluttering,  all  at  onco. 
Nor  less  composure  waits  upon  the  roar 
Of  distant  floods,  or  on  the  softer  voice 
Of  neighbouring  fountain,  or  of  rills  that  slip 
Through  the  cleft  rock,  and  chiming  as  they  fall 
Upon  loose  pebbles , lose  themselves  at  length 
In  matted  grass  that  with  a livelier  green 
Betrays  the  secret  of  their  silent  course. 

Nature  inanimate  employs  sweet  sounds, 

But  animated  nature  sweeter  still, 

To  soothe  and  satisfy  the  human  ear. 

Ten  thousand  warblers  cheer  the  day,  and  one 
The  livelong  night : nor  these  alone,  whose  notea 
Nice-finger’d  Art  must  emulate  in  vain, 

But  cawing  rooks,  and  kites  that  swim  sublime 
In  still-repeated  circles,  screaming  loud, 

The  jay,  the  pie,  and  e’en  the  boding  owl 
That  hails  the  rising  moon,  have  charms  for  me. 
Sounds  inharmonious  in  themselves  and  harsh, 
Yet  heard  in  scenes  where  peace  for  ever  reigns, 
And  only  there,  please  highly  for  their  sake. 

Affection  such  as  the  last  lines  display  for  the  in- 
harmonious as  well  as  the  harmonious,  for  the  uncomely, 
as  well  as  the  comely  parts  of  nature  has  been  made 




familiar  by  Wordsworth,  but  it  was  new  in  the  time  of 
Cowper.  Let  us  compare  a landscape  painted  by  Pope 
in  his  Windsor  forest,  with  the  lines  just  quoted,  and  we 
shall  see  the  difference  between  the  art  of  Cowper,  and 
that  of  the  Augustan  age. 

Here  waving  groves  a checkered  scene  display, 

And  part  admit  and  part  exclude  the  day, 

As  some  coy  nymph  her  lover’s  warm  address 
Not  quite  indulges,  nor  can  quite  repress. 

There  interspersed  in  lawns  and  opening  glades 
The  trees  arise  that  share  each  other’s  shades ; 

Here  in  full  light  the  russet  plains  extend, 

There  wrapt  in  clouds,  the  bluish  hills  ascend, 

E’en  the  wild  heath  displays  her  purple  dyes, 

And  midst  the  desert  fruitful  fields  arise. 

That  crowned  with  tufted  trees  and  springing  com, 

Like  verdant  isles  the  sable  waste  adorn. 

The  low  Berkshire  hills  wrapt  in  clouds  on  a sunny 
day ; a sable  desert  in  the  neighbourhood  of  Windsor ; 
fruitful  fields  arising  in  it,  and  crowned  with  tufted  trees 
and  springing  corn — evidently  Pope  saw  all  this,  not  on 
an  eminence,  in  the  ruffling  wind,  but  in  his  study  with 
his  back  to  the  window,  and  the  Georgies  or  a translation 
of  them  before  him. 

Here  again  is  a little  picture  of  rural  life  from  the 
Winter  Morning  Walk. 

The  cattle  mourn  in  corners,  where  the  fence 
Screens  them,  and  seem  half-petrified  to  sleep 
In  unrecu/mbent  sadness . There  they  wait 
Their  wonted  fodder  ; not  like  hungering  man, 

Fretful  if  unsupplied ; but  silent,  meek, 

And  patient  of  the  slow-paced  swain’s  delay. 

He  from  the  stack  carves  out  the  accustomed  load. 




Deep-plunging , and  again  deep-phmging  oft , 

His  broad  keen  knife  into  the  solid  mass: 

Smooth  as  a wall  the  upright  remnant  stands , 

With  such  undeviating  and  even  force 
He  severs  it  away  : no  needless  care, 

Lest  storms  should  overset  the  leaning  pile 
Deciduous,  or  its  own  unbalanced  weight. 

Forth  goes  the  woodman,  leaving  unconcern’d 
The  cheerful  haunts  of  man ; to  wield  the  axe 
And  drive  the  wedge  in  yonder  forest  drear, 

From  morn  to  eve,  his  solitary  task. 

Shaggy,  and  lean,  and  shrewd,  with  pointed  ears 
And  tail  cropp’d  short,  half  lurcher  and  half  cur, 

His  dog  attends  him.  Close  behind  his  heel 
Now  creeps  he  slow ; and  now,  with  many  a frisk 
Wide-scampering,  snatches  up  the  drifted  snow 
With  ivory  teeth,  or  ploughs  it  with  his  snout ; 

Then  shakes  his  powder’d  coat,  and  barks  for  joy. 
Heedless  of  all  his  pranks,  the  sturdy  churl 
Moves  right  toward  the  mark  ; nor  stops  for  aught 
But  now  and  then  with  pressure  of  his  thumb 
To  adjust  the  fragrant  charge  of  a short  tube, 

That  fumes  beneath  his  nose : the  trailing  cloud 
Streams  far  behind  him,  scenting  all  the  air. 

The  minutely  faithful  description  of  the  man  carving 
the  load  of  hay  out  of  the  stack,  and  again  those  of  the 
gambolling  dog,  and  the  woodman  smoking  his  pipe  with 
the  stream  of  smoke  trailing  behind  him,  remind  us  of 
the  touches  of  minute  fidelity  in  Homer.  The  same  may 
be  said  of  many  other  passages. 

The  sheepfold  here 

Pours  out  its  fleecy  tenants  o’er  the  glebe. 

At  fir st}  progressive  as  a stream  they  seek 
The  middle  field  : but,  scatter’d  by  degrees , 

Each  to  his  choice,  soon  whiten  all  the  la/nd. 

There  from  the  sun-burnt  hay -field  homeward  creeps 




The  loaded  wain:  while  lighten’d  of  its  charge, 

The  wain  that  meets  it  passes  swiftly  by ; 

The  boorish  driver  leaning  o’er  his  team 
Vociferous  and  impatient  of  delay. 

A specimen  of  more  imaginative  and  distinctly  poetical 
description  is  the  well-known  passage  on  evening,  in 
writing  which  Cowper  would  seem  to  have  had  Collins 
in  his  mind. 

Come,  Evening,  once  again,  season  of  peace ; 

Return,  sweet  Evening,  and  continue  long ! 

Methinks  I see  thee  in  the  streaky  west, 

With  matron-step  slow-moving,  while  the  Night 
Treads  on  thy  sweeping  train  ; one  hand  employed 
In  letting  fall  the  curtain  of  repose 
On  bird  and  beast,  the  other  charged  for  man 
With  sweet  oblivion  of  the  cares  of  day : 

Not  sumptuously  adorn’d,  nor  needing  aid, 

Like  homely -featured  Night,  of  clustering  gems ! 

A star  or  two  just  twinkling  on  thy  brow 
Suffices  thee  ; save  that  the  moon  is  thine 
No  less  than  hers,  not  worn  indeed  on  high 
With  ostentatious  pageantry,  but  set 
With  modest  grandeur  in  thy  purple  zone, 

Resplendent  less,  but  of  an  ampler  round. 

Beyond  this  line  Cowper  does  not  go,  and  had  no  idea 
of  going ; he  never  thinks  of  lending  a soul  to  material 
nature  as  Wordsworth  and  Shelley  do.  He  is  the  poetic 
counterpart  of  Gainsborough,  as  the  great  descriptive 
poets  of  a later  and  more  spiritual  day  are  the  counter- 
parts of  Turner.  We  have  said  that  Cowper’s  peasants 
are  genuine  as  well  as  his  landscape ; he  might  have  been 
a more  exquisite  Crabbe  if  he  had  turned  his  mind  that 
way,  instead  of  writing  sermons  about  a world  which  to 
him  was  little  more  than  an  abstraction,  distorted  more- 
over, and  discoloured  by  his  religious  asceticism. 




Poor,  yet  industrious,  modest,  quiet,  neat, 

Such  claim  compassion  in  a night  like  this, 

And  have  a friend  in  every  feeling  heart. 

Warm’d,  while  it  lasts,  by  labour,  all  day  long 
They  brave  the  season,  and  yet  find  at  eve, 

111  clad,  and  fed  but  sparely,  time  to  cool. 

The  frugal  housewife  trembles  when  she  lights 
Her  scanty  stock  of  brushwood,  blazing  clear, 

But  dying  soon,  like  all  terrestrial  joys. 

The  few  small  embers  left,  she  nurses  well ; 

And,  while  her  infant  race,  with  outspread  hands 
And  crowded  knees  sit  cowering  o'er  the  sparks, 
Retires,  content  to  quake,  so  they  be  warm’d. 

The  man  feels  least,  as  more  inured  than  she 
To  winter,  and  the  current  in  his  veins 
More  briskly  moved  by  his  severer  toil ; 

Yet  he  too  finds  his  own  distress  in  theirs. 

The  taper  soon  extinguish’d,  which  I saw 
Dangled  along  at  the  cold  finger’s  end 
Just  when  the  day  declined  * and  the  brown  loaf 
Lodged  on  the  shelf,  half  eaten  without  sauce 
Of  savoury  cheese,  or  butter,  costlier  still : 

Sleep  seems  their  only  refuge : for,  alas ! 

Where  penury  is  felt  the  thought  is  chained, 

And  sweet  colloquial  pleasures  are  but  few  S 
With  all  this  thrift  they  thrive  not.  All  the  care 
Ingenious  Parsimony  takes,  but  j'ust 
Saves  the  small  inventory,  bed  and  stool, 

Skillet,  and  old  carved  chest,  from  public  sale. 
They  live,  and  live  without  extorted  alms 
From  grudging  hands  : but  other  boast  have  none 
To  soothe  their  honest  pride  that  scorns  to  beg, 
Nor  comfort  else,  but  in  their  mutual  love. 

Here  we  have  the  plain,  unvarnished  record  of  visitings 
among  the  poor  of  Olney.  The  last  two  lines  are  simple 
truth  as  well  as  the  rest. 

“ In  some  passages,  especially  in  the  second  hook,  you 
will  observe  me  very  satirical.”  In  the  second  book  of 




The  Task , there  are  some  bitter  things  about  the  clergy, 
and  in  the  passage  pourtraying  a fashionable  preacher, 
there  is  a touch  of  satiric  vigour,  or  rather  of  that  power 
of  comic  description  which  was  one  of  the  writer’s  gifts. 
But  of  Cowper  as  a satirist  enough  has  been  said. 

" What  there  is  of  a religious  cast  in  the  volume  I 
have  thrown  towards  the  end  of  it,  for  two  reasons ; first, 
that  I might  not  revolt  the  reader  at  his  entrance,  and 
secondly,  that  my  best  impressions  might  be  made  last. 
Were  I to  write  as  many  volumes  as  Lope  de  Yega  or 
Voltaire,  not  one  of  them  would  be  without  this  tincture. 
If  the  world  like  it  not,  so  much  the  worse  for  them.  I 
make  all  the  concessions  I can,  that  I may  please  them, 
but  I will  not  please  them  at  the  expense  of  conscience.” 
The  passages  of  The  Task  penned  by  conscience,  taken 
together,  form  a lamentably  large  proportion  of  the  poem. 
An  ordinary  reader  can  be  carried  through  them,  if  at  all, 
only  by  his  interest  in  the  history  of  opinion,  or  by  the 
companionship  of  the  writer,  who  is  always  present,  as 
Walton  is  in  his  Angler,  as  White  is  in  his  Selbourne. 
Cowper,  however,  even  at  his  worst,  is  a highly  culti- 
vated methodist;  if  he  is  sometimes  enthusiastic,  and 
possibly  superstitious,  he  is  never  coarse  or  unctuous. 
He  speaks  with  contempt  of  “ the  twang  of  the  conventi- 
cle.” Even  his  enthusiasm  had  by  this  time  been  some- 
what tempered.  Just  after  his  conversion  he  used  to 
preach  to  everybody.  He  had  found  out,  as  he  tells  us 
himself,  that  this  was  a mistake,  that  “ the  pulpit  was  for 
preaching ; the  garden,  the  parlour,  and  the  walk  abroad 
were  for  friendly  and  agreeable  conversation.”  It  may 
have  been  his  consciousness  of  a certain  change  in  himself 
that  deterred  him  from  taking  Newton  into  his  confidence 



when  he  was  engaged  upon  The  Task.  The  worst 
passages  are  those  which  betray  a fanatical  antipathy  to 
natural  science,  especially  that  in  the  third  book  (150 — 
190).  The  episode  of  the  judgment  of  heaven  on  the 
young  atheist  Misagathus,  in  the  sixth  book,  is  also 
fanatical  and  repulsive. 

Puritanism  had  come  into  violent  collision  with  the 
temporal  power,  and  had  contracted  a character  fiercely 
political  and  revolutionary.  Methodism  fought  only 
against  unbelief,  vice,  and  the  coldness  of  the  establish- 
ment ; it  was  in  no  way  political,  much  less  revolutionary; 
by  the  recoil  from  the  atheism  of  the  French  Ee volution 
its  leaders,  including  Wesley  himself,  were  drawn  rather 
to  the  Tory  side.  Cowper,  we  have  said,  always  remained 
in  principle  what  he  had  been  born,  a Whig,  an  unrevolu- 
tionary Whig,  an  “ Old  Whig  ” to  adopt  the  phrase  made 
canonical  by  Burke. 

'Tis  liberty  alone  that  gives  the  flower 
Of  fleeting  life  its  lustre  and  perfume, 

And  we  are  weeds  without  it.  All  constraint 
Except  what  wisdom  lays  on  evil  men 
Is  evil. 

The  sentiment  of  these  lines,  which  were  familiar  and 
dear  to  Cobden,  is  tempered  by  judicious  professions  of 
loyalty  to  a king  who  rules  in  accordance  with  the  law. 
At  one  time  Cowper  was  inclined  to  regard  the  govern- 
ment of  George  III.  as  a repetition  of  that  of  Charles  I., 
absolutist  in  the  State  and  reactionary  in  the  Church ; 
but  the  progress  of  revolutionary  opinions  evidently  in- 
creased his  loyalty,  as  it  did  that