« AnteriorContinuar »
it an apology for murder. Had the men, who under a show of liberty, brought their king to the scaffold, proved by their subsequent conduct, that the public good inspired their actions, the end might have given some Sanction to the means ; but usurpation and slavery followed. Milton undertook the office of secretary under the despotic power of Cromwell, offering the incense of adulation to his master, with the titles of Director of public Councils, the Leader of unconquered Armies, the Father of his Country. Milton declared, at the same time, that nothing is more pleasing to God, or more agreeable to reason, than that the highest mind should have the sovereign power. In this strain of servile flattery Milton gives us the right divine of tyrants. But it seems, in the same piece, he exhorts Cromwell “ not to desert those great principles of li“ berty which he had professed to espouse; “ for, it would be a grievous enormity, if, “ after having successfully opposed tyranny, “he should himself act the part of a tyrant, “ and betray the cause that he had de“fended.” This desertion of every honest principle the advocate for liberty lived to see. Cromwell acted the tyrant; and, with vile
hypocrisy, hypocrisy, told the people, that he had consulted the Lord, and the Lord would have it so. Milton took an under part in the tragedy. Did that become the defender of the people of England P Brutus saw his country enslaved; he struck the blow for freedom, and he died with honour in the cause. Had he lived to be a secretary under Tiberius, what would now be said of his memory
But still, it seems, the prostitution with which Milton is charged, since it cannot be defended, is to be retorted on the character of Johnson. For this purpose a book has been published, called Remarks on Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton; to which are added Milton's Tractate of Education, and Areopagitica. In this laboured tract we are told, “There is “one performance ascribed to the pen of the “Doctor, where the prostitution is of so sin“gular a nature, that it would be difficult to “select an adequate motive for it out of the “mountainous heap of conjectural causes of “human passions or human caprice. It is “ the speech of the late unhappy Dr. William “ Dodd, when he was about to hear the sen“tence of the law pronounced upon him, in
“ consequence of an indictment for forgery. “The voice of the Public has given the “ honour of manufacturing this speech to “Dr. Johnson; and the style and configura“tion of the speech itself confirm the imputa“tion. But it is hardly possible to divine “what could be his motive for accepting the “office. A man, to express the precise state “ of mind of another, about to be destined to “ an ignominious death for a capital crime, “should, one would imagine, have some con“sciousness that he himself had incurred “some guilt of the same kind.” In all the schools of sophistry is there to be found so vile an argument? In the purlieus of Grubstreet is there such another mouthful of dirt? in the whole quiver of Malice is there so envenomed a shaft?
After this it is to be hoped, that a certain class of men will talk no more of Johnson's malignity. The last apology for Milton is, that he acted according to his principles. But Johnson thought those principles detestable ; pernicious to the constitution in Church and State, destructive of the peace of society, and hostile to the great fabric of civil policy, which the the wisdom of ages has taught every Briton to revere, to love, and cherish. He reckoned Milton in that class of men, whom the Roman historian says, when they want, by a sudden convulsion, to overturn the government, they roar and clamour for liberty; if they succeed, they destroy liberty itself. Ut imperium evertant, Libertatem praeferunt : Si perverterint, libertatem ipsam aggredientur. Such were the sentiments of Dr. Johnson ; and it may be asked, in the language of Bolingbroke, “Are these sentiments, which any man, who “is born a Briton, in any circumstances, “in any situation, ought to be ashamed or “afraid to avow?” Johnson has done ample justice to Milton's poetry: the Criticism on Paradise Lost is a sublime composition. Had he thought the author as good and pious a citizen as Dr. Watts, he would have been ready, notwithstanding his non-conformity, to do equal honour to the memory of the man.
It is now time to close this Essay, which the author fears has been drawn too much into length. In the progress of the work, feeble as it may be, he thought himself performing the last human office to the memory
of a friend, whom he loved, esteemed, and honoured.
His saltem accumulem donis, et fungar inani
The author of these Memoirs has been anxious to give the features of the man, and the true character of the author. He has not suffered the hand of partiality to colour his excellences with too much warmth; nor has he endeavoured to throw his singularities too mtieh into the shade. Dr. Johnson's failings may well be forgiven for the sake of his virtues. His defects were spots in the sun. His piety, his kind affections, and the goodness of his heart, present an example worthy of imitation. His works still remain a monument of genius and of learning. Had he written nothing but what is contained in this edition, the quantity shews a life spent in study and meditation. If to this we add the labour of his Dictionary and other various productions, it may be fairly allowed, as he used to say of himself, that he has written his share. In the volumes here presented to the Public, the reader will find a perpetual source of pleasure