MILTON AND SPRAT.
It is not very wonderful that MILTON was not buried at Westminster
Abbey; nor that during the reigns of the Stuarts no memorial of him should find a
place there. The deficiency, however, has been subsequently supplied by a
Genotaph, in very bad taste, erected to the "Author of Paradise Lost," by Mr.
BENSON, Auditor of Imprest, during the reigns of George I and II. A curious
anecdote is mentioned by Dr. JOHNSON, with seeming approbation - namely, that Dr.
SPRAT, then dean of Westminster, refused to admit of a line in an epitaph on
PHILLIPS, merely because he was mentioned in the way of praise, as second only
to MILTON; the name of MILTON being, in his opinion, too detestable to read on
the walls of a building dedicated to devotion.
Now, SPRAT belonged to the tribe of mean _atterers of royalty, whose
penegyric borders upon profaneness, being one of the coarsest adulators of the
pure virtues of Charles II. The life of this smooth prelate, who esteemed the
name of MILTON a profanation to the Abbey, is an admirable epitome of an order
of zealots who abound in our own day.
SPRAT began authorship by a penegyric on Oliver CROMWELL, for which he
apologises as unequal to "the renown of the Prince" on whom it was written;
"such groat actions and lives, deserving to be the subject of the noblest pens
and the most divine phansics." After the restoration, he took orders, and
became chaplain to that godly personage, the second George VILLERS, duke of
Buckingham, and chaplain to the King.
Ecclesiastical preferment rapidly followed, which terminated, after a
career of sixteen years, in the Bishopric of Rochester and deanery of
Westminster. "The Court" says JOHNSON, "having then a claim to his diligence," he was
required to write the history of the Rye-house Plot which he did with such an
utter neglect of honour and veracity, that in the succeeding reign he thought
convenient to extenuate and excuse it.
Tools of this kind were the very things for James the II so SPRAT was
made a member of the abominable ecclesiastical commission which office he laid
down when the storm thickened; and found it convenient, for this transaction
also, to beg pardon of the nation after the revolution. Of course, he was one
of those who did not think the Crown vacated by the desertion of James; but
nevertheless complied with the new establishment, and died Bishop of Rochester.
BURNET, says JOHNSON, "is not very favourable to him; but he and BURNET were
old rivals. On some public occasion they both preached before the House of
Commons; BURNET's sermon was remarkable for sedition, SPRAT's for loyalty. BURNET
had the thanks of the House, SPRAT had no thanks, but a good living from the
King, which he said was of as much value as the thanks of the commons."
Such, gentle readers, was the prelate who was moved with holy
indignation at the name of MILTON. He is sketched here as an excellent representative
of a rancorous, slanderous tribe, who box the whole compass of opinion, and
spit venom from every point, - who know no better way of expressing repentance
for foolish writing on the one side, than by writing slavishly and abusively on
the other; creatures who, at the first nod of power or patronage rush forward
like Turkish mutes; hireable as Swiss, and as careless of the merits of the
quarrel. A change of sides in such men costs them nothing; they have only to
handle their arms still, and what does it signify against whom with booty in