Front Page Titles (by Subject) REVIEW OF MR. GODWIN'S LIVES OF EDWARD AND JOHN PHILIPS, &c. &c. * - The Miscellaneous Works
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REVIEW OF MR. GODWIN’S LIVES OF EDWARD AND JOHN PHILIPS, &c. &c. * - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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REVIEW OF MR. GODWIN’S LIVES OF EDWARD AND JOHN PHILIPS, &c. &c.*
The public would have perhaps welcomed Mr. Godwin’s reappearance as an author, most heartily, if he had chosen the part of a novelist. In that character his name is high, and his eminence undisputed. The time is long past since this would have been thought a slight, or even secondary praise. No addition of more unquestionable value has been made by the moderns, to the treasures of literature inherited from antiquity, than those fictions which paint the manners and character of the body of mankind, and affect the reader by the relation of misfortunes which may befall himself. The English nation would have more to lose than any other, by undervaluing this species of composition. Richardson has perhaps lost, though unjustly, a part of his popularity at home; but he still contributes to support the fame of his country abroad. The small blemishes of his diction are lost in translation; and the changes of English manners, and the occasional homeliness of some of his representations, are unfelt by foreigners. Fielding will for ever remain the delight of his country, and will always retain his place in the libraries of Europe, notwithstanding the unfortunate grossness,—the mark of an uncultivated taste,—which if not yet entirely excluded from conversation, has been for some time banished from our writings, where, during the best age of our national genius, it prevailed more than in those of any other polished nation. It is impossible in a Scottish journal, to omit Smollett, even if there had not been much better reasons for the mention of his name, than for the sake of observing, that he and Arbuthnot are sufficient to rescue Scotland from the imputation of wanting talent for pleasantry: though, it must be owned, we are grave people, happily educated under an austere system of morals; possessing, perhaps, some humour, in our peculiar dialect, but fearful of taking the liberty of jesting in a foreign language like the English; prone to abstruse speculation, to vehement dispute, to eagerness in the pursuit of business and ambition, and to all those intent occupations of mind which rather indispose it to unbend in easy playfulness.
Since the beautiful tales of Goldsmith and Mackenzie, the composition of novels has been almost left to women; and, in the distribution of literary labour, nothing seems more natural, than that, as soon as the talents of women are sufficiently cultivated, this task should be assigned to the sex which has most leisure for the delicate observation of manners, and whose importance depends on the sentiments which most usually checker common life with poetical incidents. They have performed their part with such signal success, that the literary works of women, instead of receiving the humiliating praise of being gazed at as wonders and prodigies, have, for the first time, composed a considerable part of the reputation of an ingenious nation in a lettered age. It ought to be added, that their delicacy, co-operating with the progress of refinement, has contributed to efface from these important fictions the remains of barbarism which had disgraced the vigorous genius of our ancestors.
Mr. Godwin has preserved the place of men in this branch of literature. Caleb Williams is probably the finest novel produced by a man,—at least since the Vicar of Wakefield. The sentiments, if not the opinions, from which it arose, were transient. Local usages and institutions were the subjects of its satire, exaggerated beyond the usual privilege of that species of writing. Yet it has been translated into most languages; and it has appeared in various forms, on the theatres, not only in England, but of France and Germany. There is scarcely a Continental circulating library in which it is not one of the books which most quickly require to be replaced. Though written with a temporary purpose, it will be read with intense interest, and with a painful impatience for the issue, long after the circumstances which produced its original composition shall cease to be known to all but to those who are well read in history. There is scarcely a fiction in any language which it is so difficult to lay by. A young person of understanding and sensibility, not familiar with the history of its origin, nor forewarned of its connection with peculiar opinions, in whose hands it is now put for the first time, will peruse it with perhaps more ardent sympathy and trembling curiosity, than those who read it when their attention was divided, and their feelings disturbed by controversy and speculation. A building thrown up for a season, has become, by the skill of the builder, a durable edifice. It is a striking, but not a solitary example, of the purpose of the writer being swallowed up by the interest of the work,—of a man of ability intending to take part in the disputes of the moment, but led by the instinct of his talent to address himself to the permanent feelings of human nature. It must not, however, be denied, that the marks of temporary origin and peculiar opinion, are still the vulnerable part of the book. A fiction contrived to support an opinion is a vicious composition. Even a fiction contrived to enforce a maxim of conduct is not of the highest class. And though the vigorous powers of Mr. Godwin raised him above his own intention, still the marks of that intention ought to be effaced as marks of mortality; and nothing ought to remain in the book which will not always interest the reader. The passages which betray the metaphysician, more than the novelist, ought to be weeded out with more than ordinary care. The character of Falkland is a beautiful invention. That such a man could have become an assassin, is perhaps an improbability; and if such a crime be possible for a soul so elevated, it may be due to the dignity of human nature to throw a veil over so humiliating a possibility, except when we are compelled to expose it by its real occurrence. In a merely literary view, however, the improbability of this leading incident is more than compensated, by all those agitating and terrible scenes of which it is the parent: and if the colours had been delicately shaded, if all the steps in the long progress from chivalrous sentiment to assassination had been more patiently traced, and more distinctly brought into view, more might have been lost by weakening the contrast, than would have been gained by softening or removing the improbability. The character of Tyrrel, is a grosser exaggeration; and his conduct is such as neither our manners would produce, nor our laws tolerate. One or two monstrous examples of tyranny, nursed and armed by immense wealth, are no authority for fiction, which is a picture of general nature. The descriptive power of several parts of this novel is of the highest order. The landscape in the morning of Caleb’s escape from prison, and a similar escape from a Spanish prison in St. Leon, are among the scenes of fiction which must the most frequently and vividly reappear in the imagination of a reader of sensibility. His disguises and escapes in London, though detailed at too great length, have a frightful reality, perhaps nowhere paralleled in our language, unless it be in some paintings of Daniel De Foe,* with whom it is distinction enough to bear comparison. There are several somewhat similar scenes in the Colonel Jack of that admirable writer, which, among his novels, is indeed only the second; but which could be second to none but Robinson Crusoe,—one of those very few books which are equally popular in every country of Europe, and which delight every reader from the philosopher to the child. Caleb Williams resembles the novels of De Foe, in the austerity with which it rejects the agency of women and the power of love.
It would be affectation to pass over in silence so remarkable a work as the Inquiry into Political Justice; but it is not the time to say much of it. The season of controversy is past, and the period of history is not yet arrived. Whatever may be its mistakes, which we shall be the last to underrate, it is certain that works in which errors equally dangerous are maintained with far less ingenuity, have obtained for their authors a conspicuous place in the philosophical history of the eighteenth century. But books, as well as men, are subject to what is called ‘fortune.’ The same circumstances which favoured its sudden popularity, have since unduly depressed its reputation. Had it appeared in a metaphysical age, and in a period of tranquillity, it would have been discussed by philosophers, and might have excited acrimonious disputes; but these would have ended, after the correction of erroneous speculations, in assigning to the author that station to which his eminent talents had entitled him. It would soon have been acknowledged, that the author of one of the most deeply interesting fictions of his age, and of a treatise on metaphysical morals which excited general alarm, whatever else he might be, must be a person of vigorous and versatile powers. But the circumstances of the times, in spite of the author’s intention, transmuted a philosophical treatise into a political pamphlet. It seemed to be thrown up by the vortext of the French Revolution, and it sunk accordingly as that whirlpool subsided; while by a perverse fortune, the honesty of the author’s intentions contributed to the prejudice against his work. With the simplicity and good faith of a retired speculator, conscious of no object but the pursuit of truth, he followed his reasonings wherever they seemed to him to lead, without looking up to examine the array of sentiment and institution, as well as of interest and prejudice, which he was about to encounter. Intending no mischief, he considered no consequences; and, in the eye of the multitude, was transformed into an incendiary, only because he was an undesigning speculator. The ordinary clamour was excited against him: even the liberal sacrificed him to their character for liberality,—a fate not very uncommon for those who, in critical times, are supposed to go too far; and many of his own disciples, returning into the world, and, as usual, recoiling most violently from their visions, to the grossest worldlymindedness, offered the fame of their master as an atonement for their own faults. For a time it required courage to brave the prejudice excited by his name. It may, even now perhaps, need some fortitude of a different kind to write, though in the most impartial temper, the small fragment of literary history which relates to it. The moment for doing full and exact justice will come.
All observation on the personal conduct of a writer, when that conduct is not of a public nature, is of dangerous example; and, when it leads to blame, is severely reprehensible. But it is but common justice to say, that there are few instances of more respectable conduct among writers, than is apparent in the subsequent works of Mr. Godwin. He calmly corrected what appeared to him to be his own mistakes; and he proved the perfect disinterestedness of his corrections, by adhering to opinions as obnoxious to the powerful as those which he relinquished. Untempted by the success of his scholars in paying their court to the dispensers of favour, he adhered to the old and rational principles of liberty,—violently shaken as these venerable principles had been, by the tempest which had beaten down the neighbouring erections of anarchy. He continued to seek independence and reputation, with that various success to which the fashions of literature subject professed writers; and to struggle with the difficulties incident to other modes of industry, for which his previous habits had not prepared him. He has thus, in our humble opinion, deserved the respect of all those, whatever may be their opinions, who still wish that some men in England may think for themselves, even at the risk of thinking wrong; but more especially of the friends of liberty, to whose cause he has courageously adhered.
The work before us, is a contribution to the literary history of the seventeenth century. It arose from that well-grounded reverence for the morality, as well as the genius, of Milton, which gives importance to every circumstance connected with him. After all that had been written about him, it appeared to Mr. Godwin, that there was still an unapproached point of view, from which Milton’s character might be surveyed,—the history of those nephews to whom he had been a preceptor and a father. “It was accident,” he tells us, “that first threw in my way two or three productions of these writers, that my literary acquaintance,* whom I consulted, had never heard of. Dr. Johnson had told me, that the pupils of Milton had given to the world ‘only one genuine production.’ Persons better informed than Dr. Johnson, could tell me perhaps of half a dozen. How great was my surprise, when I found my collection swelling to forty or fifty!” Chiefly from these publications, but from a considerable variety of little-known sources, he has collected, with singular industry, all the notices, generally incidental, concerning these two persons, which are scattered over the writings of their age.
Their lives are not only interesting as a fragment of the history of Milton, but curious as a specimen of the condition of professed authors in the seventeenth century. If they had been men of genius, or contemptible scribblers, they would not in either case have been fair specimens of their class. Dryden and Flecknoe are equally exceptions. The nephews of Milton belonged to that large body of literary men who are destined to minister to the general curiosity; to keep up the stock of public information; to compile, to abridge, to translate;—a body of importance in a great country, being necessary to maintain, though they cannot advance, its literature. The degree of good sense, good taste, and sound opinions diffused among this class of writers, is of no small moment to the public reason and morals; and we know not where we should find so exact a representation of the literary life of two authors, of the period between the Restoration and the Revolution, as in this volume. The complaint, that the details are too multiplied and minute for the importance of the subject, will be ungracious in an age distinguished by a passion for bibliography, and a voracious appetite for anecdote. It cannot be denied, that great acuteness is shown in assembling and weighing all the very minute circumstances, from which their history must often be rather conjectured than inferred. It may appear singular, that we, in this speculative part of the island, should consider the digressions from the biography, and the passages of general speculation, as the part of the work which might, with the greatest advantage, be retrenched: but they are certainly episodes too large for the action, and have sometimes the air of openings of chapters in an intended history of England. These two faults, of digressions too expanded, and details too minute, are the principal defects of the volume; which, however, must be considered hereafter as a necessary part of all collections respecting the biography of Milton.
Edward and John Philips were the sons of Edward Philips of Shrewsbury, Secondary of the Crown Office in the Court of Chancery, by Anne, sister of John Milton. Edward was born in London in 1630, and John in 1631. To this sister the first original English verses of Milton were addressed,—which he composed before the age of seventeen,—to soothe her sorrow for the loss of an infant son. His first published verses were the Epitaph on Shakespeare. To perform the offices of domestic tenderness, and to render due honour to kindred genius, were the noble purposes by which he consecrated his poetical power at the opening of a life, every moment of which corresponded to this early promise. On his return from his travels, he found his nephews, by the death of their father, become orphans. He took them into his house, supporting and educating them; which he was enabled to do by the recompense which he received for the instruction of other pupils. And for this act of respectable industry, and generous affection, in thus remembering the humblest claims of prudence and kindness amidst the lofty ambition and sublime contemplations of his mature powers, he has been sneered at by a moralist, in a work which, being a system of our poetical biography, ought especially to have recommended this most moral example to the imitation of British youth.
John published very early a vindication of his uncle’s Defence of the People of England. Both brothers, in a very few years, weary of the austere morals of the Republicans, quitted the party of Milton, and adopted the politics, with the wit and festivity, of the young Cavaliers: but the elder, a person of gentle disposition and amiable manners, more a man of letters than a politician, retained at least due reverence and gratitude for his benefactor, and is conjectured by Mr. Godwin, upon grounds that do not seem improbable, to have contributed to save his uncle at the Restoration. Twenty years after the death of Milton, the first Life of him was published by Edward Philips; upon which all succeeding narratives have been built. This Theatrum Poetarum will be always read with interest, as containing the opinions concerning poetry and poets, which he probably imbibed from Milton. This amiable writer died between 1694 and 1698.
John Philips, a coarse buffoon, and a vulgar debauchee, was, throughout life, chiefly a political pamphleteer, who turned with every change of fortune and breath of popular clamour, but on all sides preserved a consistency in violence, scurrility, and servility to his masters, whether they were the favourites of the Court, or the leaders of the rabble. Having cried out for the blood of his former friends at the Restoration, he insulted the memory of Milton, within two years of his death. He adhered to the cause of Charles II. till it became unpopular; and disgraced the then new name of Whig by associating with the atrocious Titus Oates. In his vindication of that execrable wretch, he adopts the maxim, “that the attestations of a hundred Catholics cannot be put in balance with the oath of one Protestant;”—which, if ‘our own party’ were substituted for ‘Protestant,’ and ‘the opposite one’ for ‘Catholic,’ may be regarded as the general principle of the jurisprudence of most triumphant factions. He was silenced, or driven to literary compilation, by those fatal events in 1683, which seemed to be the final triumph of the Court over public liberty. His servile voice, however, hailed the accession of James II. The Revolution produced a new turn of this weathercock; but, happily for the kingdom, no second Restoration gave occasion to another display of his inconstancy. In 1681 he had been the associate of Oates, and the tool of Shaftesbury: in 1685 he thus addresses James II. in doggerel scurrility:
“Must the Faith’s true Defender bleed to death. A sacrifice to Cooper’s wrath?”
In 1695 he took a part in that vast mass of bad verse occasioned by the death of Queen Mary; and in 1697 he celebrated King William as Augustus Britannicus, in a poem on the Peace of Ryswick. From the Revolution to his death, about 1704, he was usefully employed as editor of the Monthly Mercury, a journal which was wholly, or principally, a translation from Le Mercure Historique, published at the Hague, by some of those ingenious and excellent Protestant refugees, whose writings contributed to excite all Europe against Louis XIV. Mr. Godwin at last, very naturally, relents a little towards him: he is unwilling to part on bad terms with one who has been so long a companion. All, however, that indulgent ingenuity can discover in his favour is, that he was an indefatigable writer; and that, during his last years, he rested, after so many vibrations, in the opinions of a constitutional Whig. But, in a man like John Philips, the latter circumstance is only one of the signs of the times, and proves no more than that the principles of English liberty were patronized by a government which owed to these principles its existence.
The above is a very slight sketch of the lives of these two persons, which Mr. Godwin, with equal patience and acuteness of research, has gleaned from publications, of which it required a much more than ordinary familiarity with the literature of the last century, even to know the existence. It is somewhat singular, that no inquiries seem to have been made respecting the history of the descendants of Milton’s brother, Sir Christopher; and that it has not been ascertained whether either of his nephews left children. Thomas Milton, the son of Sir Christopher, was, it seems, Secondary to the Crown Office in Chancery; and it could not be very difficult for a resident in London to ascertain the period of his death, and perhaps to discover his residence and the state of his family.
Milton’s direct descendants can only exist, if they exist at all, among the posterity of his youngest and favourite daughter Deborah, afterwards Mrs. Clarke, a woman of cultivated understanding, and not unpleasing manners, who was known to Richardson and Professor Ward, and was patronized by Addison.* Her affecting exclamation is well known, on seeing her father’s portrait for the first time more than thirty years after his death:—“Oh my father, my dear father!” “She spoke of him,” says Richardson, “with great tenderness; she said he was delightful company, the life of the conversation, not only by a flow of subject, but by unaffected cheerfulness and civility.” This is the character of one whom Dr. Johnson represents as a morose tyrant, drawn by a supposed victim of his domestic oppression. Her daughter, Mrs. Foster, for whose benefit Dr. Newton and Dr. Birch procured Comus to be acted, survived all her children. The only child of Deborah Milton, of whom we have any accounts besides Mrs. Foster, was Caleb Clarke, who went to Madras in the first years of the eighteenth century, and who then vanishes from the view of the biographers of Milton. We have been enabled, by accident, to enlarge a very little this appendage to his history. It appears from an examination of the parish register of Fort St. George, that Caleb Clarke, who seems to have been parish-clerk of that place from 1717 to 1719, was buried there on the 26th of October of the latter year. By his wife Mary, whose original surname does not appear, he had three children born at Madras;—Abraham, baptized on the 2d of June, 1703; Mary, baptized on the 17th of March, 1706, and buried on December 15th of the same year; and Isaac, baptized 13th of February, 1711. Of Isaac no farther account appears. Abraham, the great-grandson of Milton, in September, 1725, married Anna Clarke; and the baptism of their daughter Mary is registered on the 2d of April, 1727. With this all notices of this family cease. But as neither Abraham, nor any of his family, nor his brother Isaac, died at Madras, and as he was only twenty-four years of age at the baptism of his daughter, it is probable that the family migrated to some other part of India, and that some trace of them might yet be discovered by examination of the parish registers of Calcutta and Bombay. If they had returned to England, they could not have escaped the curiosity of the admirers and historians of Milton. We cannot apologize for the minuteness of this genealogy, or for the eagerness of our desire that it should be enlarged. We profess that superstitious veneration for the memory of the greatest of poets, which would regard the slightest relic of him as sacred; and we cannot conceive either true poetical sensibility, or a just sense of the glory of England, to belong to that Englishman, who would not feel the strongest emotions at the sight of a descendant of Milton, discovered in the person even of the most humble and unlettered of human beings.
While the grandson of Milton resided at Madras, in a condition so humble as to make the office of parish-clerk an object of ambition, it is somewhat remarkable that the elder brother of Addison should have been the Governor of that settlement. The honourable Galston Addison died there in the year 1709. Thomas Pitt, grandfather to Lord Chatham, had been his immediate predecessor in the government.
It was in the same year that Mr. Addison began those contributions to periodical essays, which, as long as any sensibility to the beauties of English style remains, must be considered as its purest and most perfect models. But it was not until eighteen months afterwards,—when, influenced by fidelity to his friends, and attachment to the cause of liberty, he had retired from office, and when, with his usual judgment, he resolved to resume the more active cultivation of literature, as the elegant employment of his leisure,—that he undertook the series of essays on Paradise Lost;—not, as has been weakly supposed, with the presumptuous hope of exalting Milton, but with the more reasonable intention of cultivating the public taste, and instructing the nation in the principles of just criticism, by observations on a work already acknowledged to be the first of English poems. If any doubt could be entertained respecting the purpose of this excellent writer, it must be silenced by the language in which he announces his criticism:—“As the first place among our English poets is due to Milton,” says he, “I shall enter into a regular criticism upon his Paradise Lost,” &c. It is clear that he takes for granted the paramount greatness of Milton; and that his object was not to disinter a poet who had been buried in unjust oblivion, but to illustrate the rules of criticism by observations on the writings of him whom all his readers revered as the greatest poet of their country. This passage might have been added by Mr. Godwin to the numerous proofs by which he has demonstrated the ignorance and negligence, if not the malice, of those who would persuade us that the English nation could have suspended their admiration of a poem,—the glory of their country, and the boast of human genius,—till they were taught its excellences by critics, and enabled by political revolutions to indulge their feelings with safety. It was indeed worthy of Lord Somers to have been one of its earliest admirers; and to his influence and conversation it is not improbable that we owe, though indirectly, the essays of Addison. The latter’s criticism manifests and inspires a more genuine sense of poetical beauty than others of more ambitious pretensions, and now of greater name. But it must not be forgotten that Milton had subdued the adverse prejudices of Dryden and Atterbury, long before he had extorted from a more acrimonious hostility, that unwilling but noble tribute of justice to the poet, for which Dr. Johnson seems to have made satisfaction to his hatred by a virulent libel on the man.*
It is an excellence of Mr. Godwin’s narrative, that he thinks and feels about the men and events of the age of Milton, in some measure as Milton himself felt and thought. Exact conformity of sentiment is neither possible nor desirable: but a Life of Milton, written by a zealous opponent of his principles, in the relation of events which so much exasperate the passions, almost inevitably degenerates into a libel. The constant hostility of a biographer to the subject of his narrative, whether it be just or not, is teazing and vexatious: the natural frailty of overpartiality is a thousand times more agreeable.
[* ] From the Edinb. Rev. vol. xxv. p. 485.—Ed.
[* ] A great-grandson of Daniel De Foe, of the same name, is now a creditable tradesman in Hungerford Market in London. His manners give a favourable impression of his sense and morals. He is neither unconscious of his ancestor’s fame, nor ostentatious of it.
[* ] This plural use of ‘acquaintance’ is no doubt abundantly warranted by the example of Dryden, the highest authority in a case of diction, of any single English writer: but as the usage is divided, the convenience of distinguishing the plural from the singular at first sight seems to determine, that the preferable plural is “acquaintances.”
[* ] Who intended to have procured a permanent provision for her. She was presented with fifty guineas by Queen Caroline.
[* ] The strange misrepresentations, long prevalent among ourselves respecting the slow progress of Milton’s reputation, sanctioned as they were both by Johnson and by Thomas Warton, have produced ridiculous effects abroad. On the 16th of November, 1814, a Parisian poet named Campenon was, in the present unhappy state of French literature, received at the Academy as the successor of the Abbé Delille. In his Discours de Réception, he speaks of the Abbé’s translation “de ce Paradis Perdu, dont l’Agleterre est si fière depuis qu’elle a cessé d’en ignorer le mérite.” The president M. Regnault de St. Jean d’Angely said that M. Delille repaid our hospitality by translating Milton,—“en doublant ainsi la célébrué du Poete; dont le génie a inspiré à l’Angleterre un si tardif mais si légitime orgueil.”