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Secretary. Altogether Mr. Milton was thought the very man for the post. While Mr. Frost, as the General Secretary, would be always present at the Council meetings, and engrossed in their ordinary and multifarious business, Mr. Milton would have to give attendance for the most part daily, but only for portions of the day. His duties were to be very much those of the head of our present Foreign Office next under the Minister for that department, with the difference that the Council of State then managed the Foreign Ministry as well as every other department of State, and that the diplomatic correspondence of the Commonwealth was not likely to be so extensive but that one official head, with a clerk or two, could manage it all.
The duties, at all events, made it convenient that Milton should reside near to the Council, the meetings of which were for the first month or two in Derby House, close to the Houses of Parliament, but afterwards permanently in Whitehall. Accordingly, immediately on his appointment, he left his house in High Holborn, and took lodgings “at one Thomson's, next door to the Bull Head Tavern at Charing Cross, opening into the Spring Garden." This was only till official apartments could be prepared for him in Whitehall; and in November 1649, seven or eight months after he had begun his Secretaryship, such apartments were assigned him by the Council. They were in that end of the extensive palace of Old Whitehall which was called Scotland Yard. Not a few members of the Council of State, with others of the Parliament, were similarly accommodated in Whitehall ; which had, in fact, been converted into a range of Government-offices. Milton occupied his Whitehall or Scotland Yard rooms for a little more than two years, or till near the end of the third year of his Secretaryship. After he had been in them for some time the Council voted him some of the late King's hangings, or curtains and tapestry, for the better furnishing of the rooms.
To give the details of Milton's life in the first years of his Latin Secretaryship to the Council of State would be really, in some measure, to narrate the history of the English Commonwealth, so exactly at the centre of affairs was he by his official position, and with so many of the public proceedings of the time was he personally concerned. It would be a mistake to suppose that his sole employment was in drafting
letters in Latin to foreign Governments. Among the State Documents of English history, indeed, from 1649 onwards, there is a long series of Latin letters to Foreign Courts and Princes, all of Milton's penning, and some of them, though Milton only embodied his instructions, unmistakeably his own in form and expression. It was part of his duty, however, not only to prepare such letters for the approbation of the Council or of Parliament (for some of them had to be read in Parliament and approved there before the Speaker signed and despatched them), but also to translate foreign papers and be in attendance at interviews of the Council, or of Committees of the Council or of Parliament, with foreign ambassadors and envoys. Indeed, sometimes he had himself to wait on such ambassadors or envoys, and convey delicate messages to them, in the name of the Council. In this way his acquaintanceship among eminent foreigners living in London, or visiting London, came gradually to be very extensive. Gradually only ; for in the first years of his official life, while Foreign Powers as yet, with few exceptions, held aloof from the Commonwealth, the particular duties of the Foreign Secretaryship were far from onerous. A despatch once in two months to the King of Spain, the King of Portugal, the Hamburg Senate, etc., is about the measure of the preserved Foreign Correspondence for the years 16491651. From the first, therefore, the Council had availed themselves of Milton's services in very miscellaneous work. If they wanted a book, or a set of dangerous papers, reported on, with a view to a prosecution for sedition, they referred the task to Mr. Milton ; if there were any dealing with an author or a printer about something to be published, Mr. Milton was requested to see to it; everything, in short, involving literary knowledge or judgment went to Mr. Milton rather than to Mr. Frost. Occasionally he brought some matter of his own accord before the Council, or used his influence in behalf of some scholar or man of letters, such as Davenant, who had got into difficulties through his Royalism. One would hardly have expected to find the author of the Areopagitica acting as an official licenser of the press; but, for a whole year, I have distinctly ascertained, Milton was the official licenser of the newspaper called Mercurius Politicus. As it was, in fact, a Government organ, conducted by Mr. Marchamont Needham, who had formerly been a Royalist pamphleteer and journalist, the censorship may be supposed to have implied a superintending editorship. Indeed, Milton's hand is to be traced in the leading articles in the newspaper through the year 1651, and some of them may be wholly of his composition. To Milton's Secretaryship was also attached an “inspection into "the State Paper Office in Whitehall, i.e. a kind of keepership of the Records. Nor was this all. When the Council of State had chosen Milton as their Secretary for Foreign Tongues, they had secured, as they knew, a man fit to be the literary champion of the still struggling Commonwealth. Three publications of Milton, accordingly, all done at the order or by the request of the Council of State, have to be especially mentioned as feats of the first three years of his Secretaryship. “ Observations on Ormond's Articles of Peace with the Irish Rebels and on a Representation of the Scotch Presbytery of Belfast,” is the title (somewhat abbreviated) of a pamphlet of Milton's published by authority in May 1649, when Charles II. had been proclaimed in Ireland, and the Marquis of Ormond was trying to unite in his cause the native Irish Roman Catholics, the English settlers, and the Ulster Presbyterians. Of far greater importance was the Eikonoklastes (i.e. Image-Breaker), published in October 1649 in answer to the famous “ Eikon Basilike (i.e. Royal Image) or Portraiture of his Sacred Majesty in his Solitudes and Sufferings,” professing to be meditations and prayers written by Charles I. in his last years. The “King's Book," as it was called, then all but universally believed to be really by Charles, though the evidence that it was a fabrication in his interest has long been regarded as conclusive, had appeared immediately after Charles's death, had circulated in different forms and in thousands of copies, and had become a kind of Bible with the Royalists. Milton's answer to it, in which he criticised both the book and the dead king with merciless severity, was received, therefore, as a signal service to the Commonwealth. More momentous still was his Latin “ Defensio pro Populo Anglicano” (“ Défence for the People of England”), published in April 1651 in reply to the Defensio Regia, or defence of Charles I. and attack upon the English Commonwealth, which had been published in Holland more than a year before by the great Leyden Professor, Salmasius, at the instance and at the expense of Charles II. Never in the world had one human being inflicted on another a more ruthless or appalling castigation than Milton here inflicted on perhaps the most renowned scholar of his day in all Europe, the veteran whom his learned contemporaries called “ The Wonderful,” and for the honour of possessing whom Princes and Courts contended; and just in proportion to the celebrity of the victim so murdered, trampled on, and gashed, was the amazement over the man that had done the deed. The book had been out little more than two months when the Council of State, after offering a money reward to Milton, which he declined, passed and inserted in their Minutes (June 17, 1651) this vote of thanks to him : “ The Council, taking notice of the many good services performed by Mr. John Milton, their Secretary for Foreign Tongues, to this State and Commonwealth, particularly of his book in vindication of the Parliament and People of England against the calumnies and invectives of Salmasius, have thought fit to declare their resentment and good acceptance of the same, and that the thanks of the Council be returned to Mr. Milton, and their sense represented in that behalf.” But it was abroad, and among foreigners in London, that the Reply to Salmasius excited the most lively interest. From all the embassies in London Milton received formal calls or speedy messages of compliment expressly on account of the book; and in Holland, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and elsewhere, copies were in extraordinary demand, and a topic of talk among scholars for months was the mangling which the great Salmasius had received from one of “the English mastiffs." It is not too much to say that before the end of the year 1651, in consequence of this one book, Milton's name was more widely known on the Continent than that of any other Englishman then living, except Oliver Cromwell.
Though Cromwell had been, of course, a member of the Council of State from the first, his labours through the greater part of the years 1649–1651 had been elsewhere than at Whitehall. From August 1649 to June 1650, he had been in Ireland as Lord Lieutenant for the Commonwealth, crushing the Royalist confederacy there, and reconquering the country after its eight years of Rebellion. From July 1650 to August 1651 he had been in Scotland, where Charles II. had meanwhile been received as King, and whence the Scots threatened to bring him into England. The battle of Dunbar (Sept. 3. 1650) and subsequent successes had already made Cromwell master of all the South of Scotland, when, by a sudden movement, Charles and the Scottish Army escaped his vigilance and burst into England, obliging him to follow in pursuit. Having beaten them in the great battle of Worcester (Sept. 3, 1651), he was back at Whitehall at last, the acknowledged saviour of the Commonwealth, and supreme chief of England. The young king was again in exile, and the Commonwealth, now including Scotland, Ireland, and the English colonies and dominions, was to all appearance one of the most stable, as it was certainly one of the most powerful, of the European States. Such foreign Princes and Governments as had hitherto stood aloof hastened to send their embassies and apologies, and Milton's duties in the special work of his Secretaryship for Foreign Tongues were likely to be more burdensome than they had been.
It is significant that the only pieces of verse known to have come from Milton's pen during the three years of his life just sketched are these :Scrap of Verse from Seneca, inculcating Tyrannicide, translated in
Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (now appended to Minor
English Poems). 1649. In Salmasii Hundredam : Scrap of Latin parody in Defensio Prima
(now annexed to the Sylve). 1651.
PETTY FRANCE, WESTMINSTER.
1652–1660 : ætat. 44–52. In the beginning of 1652, for some reason or other, Milton removed from the official rooms in Whitehall into a house which he had taken close at hand. It was “a pretty gardenhouse in Petty France, Westminster, next door to the Lord Scudamore's, and opening into St. James's Park.” It existed till very recently as No. 19 York Street, Westminster, though no one looking at that dingy old house, let out in apartments, in a dense and dingy street of poor houses and shops, could imagine without difficulty that it had been once the pretty garden-house, opening into St. James's Park, which Milton occupied. That was the house, however; and, as it was the