« AnteriorContinuar »
died before their parents. Her husband probably failed in business, if a master, or became incapable of work, if a mere operative, for she had to keep a small grocer's or chandler's shop for their support; first in Lower Holloway, and then in Cock-lane, near Shoreditch Church. Dr. Birch knew her, and learned from her some particulars respecting her grandfather and his family. He describes her as a plain, sensible woman. In consequence of his exertions, ably seconded by Johnson, Comus was acted for her benefit, on the 5th of April, 1750; for which Johnson wrote a prologue that does him honour. He tells us that “she had so little acquaintance with diversion or gaiety, that she did not know what was intended when a benefit was offered her.” He further informs us, that “the profits of the performance were only £130, although Dr. Newton contributed largely, and £20 were given by Tonson, a man who is to be praised as cften as he is named.” He adds, that £100 were placed in the funds; the rest augmented their little stock, with which they removed to Islington. Mrs. Foster did not long survive this paltry addition to her means of subsistence. A paragraph to the following effect has been preserved from one of the newspapers of the time :t-"On Thursday last, May 9, 1754, died at Islington, in the sixty-sixth year of her age, after a long ,
, and painful illness, which she sustained with Christian fortitude, Mrs. Elizabeth Foster, granddaughter of Mil
* Todd however states, on the authority of Isaac Reed, that the receipts of the house were only £147. 14s. 6d., from which £80 were deducted for the expenses, leaving not quite £70 for Mrs. Foster. The donations of Newton and Tonson are probably not to be included in this sum, as they seem to be by Todd; who also gives Warton, and not Johnson, as the authority for the statement in the text.
p In Memoirs of T. Hollis, i. 114, quoted by Mitford.
ton.' With her ended the direct line of John Milton. It seems as if it were a law of nature, that those on whom Heaven has bestowed its noblest gifts, and whose mental productions are destined to continue during ages of ages to yield profit and delight to mankind, should not be permitted to keep up their name in the same manner as the ordinary race of mortals. They either live and die unmarried, like Virgil, Tasso, Camões, Pope; or, if married, their posterity ends in, at furthest, the third generation, like Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton. But their name remains flourishing in everlasting verdure, gloriously distinguished from those of the high-titled,
"whose ancient but ignoble blood
This we regard as the most fitting place to treat of Milton's behaviour toward his daughters, which is generally regarded as the darkest spot in his history.
Mrs. Foster gave Dr. Birch to understand that her grandfather treated his daughters with much harshness, and was so indifferent about their mental culture that he would not even let them learn to write. Phillips tells us that he made the two youngest—for the eldest was excused on account of her imperfect articulation—read to him the Hebrew (and he thinks the Syriac), Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French languages, though they only understood their mother-tongue. This naturally was extremely irksome, and they complained bitterly of it; and “at length,” he adds, “ they were all (even the eldest also) sent out to learn some curious and ingenious sorts of manufacture, that are proper for women to learn, particularly embroidery in gold and silver.” The same account of their reading to him was also given by Deborah
to Dr. Ward, according to whom she said that they read eight languages to their father ; yet what use he could have had for any but the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, and perhaps the French, we are unable to discem. She also, he said, could repeat the beginning of the Ilias,
, and of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; yet surely Milton must have had these by heart himself. We may however suppose, that, when meditating on Paradise Lost, he may have had Ovid's account of creation frequently read for him, and so these lines may have fixed themselves in his daughter's memory,--more especially as there is some reason for believing that she may have understood them ; but we cannot see how she could have gotten the first lines of the Ilias by heart, for she certainly was ignorant of Greek. The learning to read Hebrew too, must have been a most irksome task. Finally, it is said, that in his uxoriousness he gave the whole of his property to his wife, leaving his children unprovided for. This, we believe, is the whole of the case against Milton.
Let us now see what can be said on the other side. Mrs. Foster said that her grandfather would not let his daughters even learn to write. Now they must have known how to write, for their receipts are extant for the money paid them by their stepmother; and Aubrey positively asserts that Deborah Milton was her father's amanuensis. He adds, that her father“ taught her Latin and to read Greek,” by which he must have meant that she could read Latin with understanding, while she only knew the Greek characters. Deborah was probably one of the copyists of the pieces in the Cambridge MS., most of whom were females. Her own account to Dr. Ward was, that she and her sisters were “not sent to school, but taught at home by a mistress kept for that purpose,” which might seem to indicate that they had a resident governess, which would open to us a new feature in Milton's domestic economy in the interval between his second and his last marriage, and also explains the declaration ascribed to him, that he “ had spent the greater part of his estate in providing for them;" in which he of course included the cost of having them taught embroidery, and the separate establishment which he seems to have maintained for them for the last four or five years of his life.
It thus appears that Milton did not neglect the education of his children. They were probably taught as much, or rather more, as any young women in their rank of life at that time.
The only remaining charge is, that he left his property away from them. The superior claims of his wife we
. will presently notice; here it is to be observed, that the two eldest had a genteel trade by which they could support themselves, and that Mrs. Merian had promised to provide for Deborah,-a promise which she seems to have performed. Their father left them beside his claim for their mother's fortune of £1000, which had never been paid him, and which their uncle Milton declared that he regarded as good money, as it was "in the hands of persons of ability, able to pay the same, being their grandmother and uncle ; and he had seen the grandfather's will, wherein it is particularly directed to be paid unto them by his executors.” It would therefore seem that Mr. Powell, when making his will, left, probably with Milton's assent, his daughter's fortune to the issue of her marriage; for only one child had been born when he died. If then they were left portionless, it was owing to the dishonesty of their grandmother and uncle, and not to the unkindness of their father.
Milton's third and last wife was, as we have seen, Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Randle Minshull, of Wistaston, near Nantwich, in the county of Chester,* to whom he was introduced by his friend Dr. Paget, who was related to the Minshull family. As it appears from the parish register of Wistaston that she was baptized on the 30th of December, 1638, she was probably born some time in that month, being about thirty years younger than her husband; he being in his fifty-sixth, she in her twenty-sixth year, when they were married in 1664. She
, was probably a handsome young woman at the time. Newton says that he was told by a gentleman who knew her in Cheshire, that her hair was of a golden hue, colour usually associated with some degree of personal beauty. He thinks that Milton had her in his mind's eye when drawing the portrait of his Eve; but that part of the poem must have been written some time before his marriage. Aubrey, who knew her personally, says she was “a genteel person, of a peaceful and agreeable humour.” She appears to have had a high degree of respect and veneration for her husband, and to have made him an excellent wife, studying his comfort in every way. To reward her for her care, he left her what fortune he died possessed of. We have seen that he regarded his children as having no claim on him, being already provided for. But as his will was merely nuncupative and irregular, they disputed it after his death, and she was obliged to make a compromise with them,
* See the pedigree of the Mynshull family given by Mr. Marsh, of Warrington, from the Cheshire Visitation of 1663–4, and the Lancashire Visitation of 1664-5, in Notes and Queries, vol. ix. p. 38.