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in the King's cause at the siege of Chester (1645), greatly to the King's grief, who is said to have put on private mourning for him. Not the less had Henry Lawes, who remained in London, his meetings with his old friend Milton, when they would lay politics aside and agree in Music. SONNET XIV.: “ON THE RELIGIOUS MEMORY OF Mrs.
CATHERINE THOMSON, MY CHRISTIAN FRIEND, DE
CEASED 16 DECEMB. 1646.”. The Sonnet itself, with its heading, which does not occur in the printed volume, but is taken from the Cambridge MS., supplies all the information we have respecting the person addressed. Phillips, indeed, mentions that some time in 1649, Milton “ lodged at one Thomson's, next door to the Bull Head Tavern at Charing Cross, opening into the Spring Garden ”; and it has been supposed that the Mrs. Catherine Thomson who died in 1646 may have been one of the Charing Cross family with whom Milton thus afterwards lodged. This is mere guess. Thomson, then, as now, was a very common name in London. SONNET XV. : « ON THE LORD GENERAL FAIRFAX AT
THE SIEGE OF COLCHESTER.” The Siege of Colchester in Essex lasted from the 15th of June to the 28th of August 1648, and was one of the most memorable incidents of what is called “the Second Civil War,” i.e. of that spasmodic new rising of the English and Scottish Royalists on behalf of Charles I., then a prisoner in the Isle of Wight, which it required all the energy of Fairfax, the Parliamentarian commander-in-chief, and of Cromwell, his lieutenant-general, to put down, and which led very speedily to the King's trial and doom. While Cromwell managed the northern department of the war, meeting and beating the Duke of Hamilton and the Royalist Scots and English at Preston, Fairfax in person superintended the siege of Colchester ; which town had been seized for the King, and was defended by the Earl of Norwich, Lord Capel, Sir Charles Lucas, Sir George Lisle, and other Royalist chiefs. As Fairfax offered quarter only to the soldiers, but required the leaders to surrender at discretion, the defence was desperate, and both the garrison and the townspeople were reduced to the last straits of starvation, having to eat grass and the flesh of horses, cats, and dogs. When the surrender did take place, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were tried by court-martial, and immediately shot, as released prisoners of war who had broken their parole to the Parliament in again taking arms for the King. The Earl of Norwich and Lord Capel were left to the mercy of Parliament ; and Lord Capel was afterwards executed. The taking of Colchester was heard of with triumph by the Parliamentarians throughout England, and went as an addition to the renown of Fairfax acquired by his many actions since he had been made Parliamentary commander-in-chief in December 1644. Milton, in this Sonnet, expresses the general feeling of the hour, not only about the particular victory, but also about the character of Fairfax and England's further hopes from him. Although Fairfax afterwards retired from his connexion with the Commonwealth, and even cooperated at last in the Restoration, this Sonnet to him savoured too much of pre-Restoration politics to be allowable in Milton's edition of his Minor Poems in 1673. It was first published by Phillips in 1694, at the end of his memoir of Milton.
SONNET XVI. : “ TO THE LORD GENERAL CROMWELL,
MAY 1652 : ON THE PROPOSALS OF CERTAIN
Milton's admiration of Cromwell is attested by many proofs, and, amongst them, by a long and impassioned outburst of Latin eulogium in the Defensio Secunda. No two men, I believe, were more essentially like-minded, more one at heart in their thoughts about the great problems of the English nation at that time, than the two whom fate had drawn together in such different capacities,–Cromwell, the supreme soldier and man of action, raised at length to be the ruler ; Milton, the poet and idealist, brought beside this ruler as a scholarly official. The Sonnet under notice, however, is not, as the mere title “ To Cromwell” sometimes given to it might lead one to imagine, Milton's estimate of Cromwell from the whole of his career, or even after Milton's Secretaryship to him singly had begun. It is an address by Milton to Cromwell at a particular moment of Cromwell's career and
on a particular occasion. The date was May 1652. Cromwell was not yet Protector, though he was the first man in the Republic, and they were proposing to make him its head. Since the execution of the King, and the establishment of the Commonwealth under the government of the Parliament with a Council of State, he had been away in Ireland, as LordLieutenant of that country, trampling down its long Rebellion and reducing it to order (1649-50); he had also been in Scotland, and had fought the Battle of Dunbar (Sept. 3, 1650) there, and taken other measures which, when followed up by the crowning victory of Worcester (Sept. 3, 1651), utterly ruined the cause of Charles II. in Scotland, as well as in England, and united both parts of the island in one Commonwealth. These were the acts of Cromwell freshest in men's minds, and he had been again in London through the winter of 1651-2, when the Sonnet was written. The Sonnet breathes the feeling of many at that hour with respect to him. Now that he was at home again, would not things be better managed than they had been in his absence by the persistent Rump of the Long Parliament and the Council of State ? Especially in matters of Religion was not fresh zeal necessary ? Throughout England and Wales, or in many parts of them, Church matters were in chaos,—Presbyterian ministers here and Independents there, mixed with the wrecks of the old parish clergy; no regular arrangement for the provision of ministers ; disputes as to the method of such provision, whether by a common fund out of the tithes, or by voluntary contribution without tithes at all; many districts meanwhile in spiritual destitution for want of fit pastors and preachers. For the consideration of such questions and the remedying of such evils there had been appointed a Parliamentary “ Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel" ; and this Committee seems to have been in unusual activity after Cromwell's return. There was then some new form of the controversy respecting a State Church and endowments for the clergy, and the Presbyterian ministers more especially seemed to their enemies to be trying to get for themselves all the property that had belonged to the abolished Prelatic Church. It was expected that Cromwell, whose sympathies had been with the Independents and Sectaries, would have something to say to this ; and Milton's Sonnet expresses that expectation. It hints even Milton's hope that Cromwell would become the champion of that cause of absolute Church Disestablishment, absolute separation of Church and State, which was dear to Milton himself. Cromwell's Protectorate (Dec. 1653–Sept. 1658), with Milton's closer connexion with him during that Protectorate, and the disappointment of Milton's hopes from Cromwell on the Church-Establishment question, came later. Yet the Sonnet may well stand as Milton's tribute of respect to Cromwell on the whole ; and little wonder that he did not dare to print it in the edition of his Poems in 1673.
SONNET XVII. : To SIR HENRY VANE THE YOUNGER.
This Sonnet, which was put into Vane's hands on the 3d of July 1652, breathes the same spirit as the last. Vane was in his fortieth year when it was addressed to him, and was one of the Council of State ; but, as his father was still alive, he was always known as the Younger Vane. It was recollected, moreover, how he had entered the Long Parliament at the age of twenty-seven, having already distinguished himself in America, and how all through the Parliament he had acted and been regarded as one of the subtlest and boldest theorists of the extreme Revolutionary party. In his style of mind he was what would now be called a doctrinaire, or abstract thinker, with a dash of the fanatic or mystic; and, as Milton hints, he had exercised himself very particularly on the question of the relations and mutual limits of the Church and State, having had practical occasion to consider that question as early as 1636, when he was Governor of Massachusetts. After the Restoration he was brought to the scaffold, June 14, 1662. Milton's Sonnet to him was necessarily omitted in the volume of 1673.
SONNET XVIII.: “ON THE LATE MASSACRE IN
PIEDMONT.” This, the most powerful of Milton's Sonnets, was written in 1655, and refers to the persecution instituted, in the early part of that year, by Charles Emmanuel II., Duke of Savoy and Prince of Piedmont, against his Protestant subjects of the valleys of the Cottian Alps. This Protestant community, half French and half Italian, and known as the Waldenses or Vaudois, were believed to have kept up the tradition of a primitive Christianity from the time of the Apostles. There had been various persecutions of them since the Reformation; but that of 1655 surpassed all. By an edict of the Duke they were required to part with their property and leave his dominions within twenty days, or else to become Roman Catholics. On their resistance, forces were sent into their valleys, and the most dreadful atrocities followed. Many were butchered; others were taken away in chains; and hundreds of families were driven for refuge to the mountains covered with snow, to live there miserably, or perish by cold and hunger. Among the Protestant nations of Europe, and especially in England, the indignation was immediate and vehement. Cromwell, who was then Protector, took up the matter with his whole strength. He caused Latin letters, couched in the strongest terms, to be immediately sent, not only to the offending Duke of Savoy, but also to the chief Princes and Powers of Europe. These letters were drawn up by Milton, and may be read among his Letters of State. An Ambassador was also sent to collect information ; a Fast Day was appointed; a subscription of £40,000 was raised for the sufferers ; and altogether Cromwell's remonstrances were such that, backed as they would have been, if necessary, by armed force, the cruel edict was withdrawn, and a convention made with the Vaudois, allowing them the exercise of their worship. Milton's Sonnet is his private and more tremendous expression in verse of the feeling he expressed publicly, in Cromwell's name, in his Latin State Letters.
SONNET XIX. : ON HIS BLINDNESS. The last Sonnet, if not also the two preceding it, had been written by Milton after he had lost his sight. His blindness, which had been coming on slowly for ten years, and had been hastened by his labour in writing his Defensio pro Populo Anglicano in answer to Salmasius (1651), was complete in 1652, when he was only forty-four years of age. We are to imagine therefore that, after having been Secretary to the Council of State for a year or two with his sight failing, he continued to act as Secretary through Cromwell's Protectorate (1653-58) with his sight totally gone. The fact was pointed to with coarse exultation by his enemies, at home