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throne and equipage of God's Almightiness, and what he works and what he suffers to be wrought with High Provi. dence 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. Lastly, whatsoever in religion is holy and sublime, in virtue amiable or grave, whatsoever hath passion or admiration in all the changes of that which is called fortune from without, or the wily subtleties and refluxes of man's thoughts from within ; all these things with a solid and treatable smoothness to paint out and describe. * *
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 payment 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 amourist, 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 lips of whom he pleases: to this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and generous arts and affairs; till which, in some measure, be compassed 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.”
It was under the influence of these ambitious, and yet devout aspirations, that Milton prepared to quit the shores of Italy without prosecuting his travels to Greece, and to take his part in the great transactions on which the destiny of his country was suspended. Before he left, however, he visited, as he himself informs us, the illustrious Galileo, then in old
age and poverty, and spirit-broken by the merciless persecution of the Romish church. We have, unfortunately, no record of the particulars of this interview; but it is natural to suppose that a spectacle so impressively sad must have intensified Milton's sense of the miseries and mischiefs which result from arming any ecclesiastical body with the powers of the State.
On arriving in England he was informed of the premature death of his friend Deodati, and paid to his memory the “meed of a melodious tear,” in a Latin monody written in the pastoral style. In this he again intimates his determination to perpetuate his name by the composition of an epic poem. At this time, however, he had not formed the grander conception which he ultimately developed. His thoughts were as yet turned solely to early British history; -he resolved that his poem should be of national interest; and declared that his hopes would be satisfied if his fame should be bounded by the British seas.
Milton's first fixed residence was in London, at a lodging which he hired in St. Bride's church-yard, where he received the two sons of his sister, Edward and John Philips, for the purpose of education. Dr. Johnson, who wrote his Life of Milton under a morbid anxiety to find something to disparage and to censure, and whose malignity increased with his disappointments, thus notices the event just recorded :* Let not our veneration for Milton forbid us to look with some degree of merriment on great promises and small performance; on the man who hastens home, because his countrymen are contending for their liberty, and when he reaches the scene of action, vapours away his patriotism in a private boarding-school. This is the period of his life from which all his biographers seem inclined to shrink. They are unwilling that Milton should be degraded to a school-master—which no wise man will consider in itself disgraceful.” It is painful to contemplate, in such evidences as this, the littleness of Johnson's character in contrast with
the acknowledged greatness and vigour of his intellectual powers, the extent of his learning, the patience of his industry, and the unquestionable value of the works which resulted from this rare combination. The “great promises" to which Dr. Johnson refers, were all contained in the following simple statement:-“When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received of the civil commotions in England made me alter my purpose; for I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad, when my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home.” If the writer considered that these words committed Milton to the necessity of shouldering his musket and marching off to the scene of conflict, his foolish error might have been corrected by the language of Milton himself, in his ó Second Defence of the People of England,' which it is quite probable Johnson never read. Relying on the assistance of God, they indeed repelled servitude with the most justifiable war; and though I claim no share of their peculiar praise, I can easily defend myself against the charge (if any charge of that nature should be brought against me) of timidity or of indolence. For I did not for any other reason decline the toils and dangers of war than that I might in another way, with much more efficacy, and with not less danger to myself, render assistance to my countrymen, and discover a mind neither shrinking from adverse fortune, nor actuated by any improper fear of calumny or of death. Since from my childhood, I had been devoted to the more liberal studies, and was always more powerful in my intellect than in my body, avoiding the labours of the camp, in which any robust common soldier might easily have surpassed me, I betook myself to those weapons which I could wield with the most effect, and I conceived that I was acting wisely when I thus brought my better and more valuable faculties, those which constituted my principal strength and consequence, to the assistance of my country and her most honourable cause.”
Johnson, indeed, speaks of his veneration for Milton; though it must be evident to every one who is intimately acquainted with their characters, that the biographer was. destitute both of the mental and moral qualities which alone could enable him to appreciate the noble character of the poet; and while he sneers at the school as a “wonderworking academy," because it was Milton's, he obligingly seeks to rescue that employment from contempt, because he himself happened to have been engaged in it.
The convulsion of the times, which was now approaching its crisis, withdrew the mind of Milton from its cherished object,—the pursuit of poetry and literature, and impelled him to the front ranks of that controversial fray which, in the then unexpected result, proved to be the all-important and decisive conflict. The contest between Charles and his people—the history and sequel of which will be memorable so long as the greatness of human nature shall rise against political and spiritual despotism, and so long as the infirmity of that nature shall allow of the pitiable sequence of reaction-was the battle not of powers, but of principles. And while Milton never doubted of the prowess or the success of the forces banded against the tyrant in the field, he felt that. the opposition was directed against the palpable, material results of those principles, which were themselves but scantily understood. His sagacious mind foresaw that while the external machinery was removed, the motive power might remain; and that one engine of tyranny might be displaced, only to make room for another, which, veiled under an illusory name, might be mightier for mischief. Hence his great purpose was to avail himself of the position he held in advance of his age, in order to prepare his countrymen for the future, and to enable them, by a wise cognizance of the signs of the times, to evade the perils of the storm without splitting on the rocks that beset the harbour.
In this most critical position of public affairs, he has recorded, and thus enabled us to present, in his own lan
guage, the facts and feelings by which his course was guided. “I returned to my native country,"* he says, “after an absence of one year and about three months, at the time when Charles, having broken the peace, was renewing what is called the episcopal war with the Scots, in which the royalists, being routed in the first encounter, and the English being universally and justly disaffected, the necessity of his affairs at last obliged him to convene a parliament. As soon as I was able, I hired a spacious house in the city for myself and my books; where I again, with rapture, renewed my literary pursuits, and where I awaited the issue of the contest, which I trusted to the wise conduct of Providence, and to the courage of the people. The vigour of the parliament had begun to humble the pride of the bishops. As long as the liberty of speech was no longer subject to control, all mouths began to be opened against the bishops; some complained of the vices of the individuals, others of those of the order. They said that it was unjust that they alone should differ from the model of other reformed churches; that the government of the church should be according to the pattern of other churches, and particularly the Word of God. This awakened all my attention and my zeal. I saw that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty; that the foundation was laying for the deliverance of man from the yoke of slavery and superstition; that the principles of religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republic; and as I had, from my youth, studied the distinctions between religious and civil rights, I perceived that if I ever wished to be of use, I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the church, and to so many of my fellow-Christians, in a crisis of so much danger; I therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my
* The Second Defence of the People of England.' Prose Works, vol. i.