Imágenes de páginas

rightly counsel, exhort, inspire, and bind an unfading wreath of praise round the brows of the illustrious actors in so glorious a scene.”

The “Second Defence of the People of England” is in many respects the most valuable of Milton's prose writings. It is the chief repository from which we draw our information as to his personal history. It yields to none of his treatises in sustained grandeur of style. It is rich in the noblest sentiments of patriotism and freedom, both civil and religious; and by the perusal of those eloquent panegyrics in which he embalms the reputation of his eminent fellowworkers, we are impressed at once with the candour and generosity of Milton, and the blind prejudice of the biographer who could affirm, that no man who had written so much had praised so few.

* Prose Works, vol. i. pp. 299, 300.



THE political aspect of this country was never more distressing to the friends, and portentous to the cause, of freedom, than at the period to which this narrative has now been conducted. The vigorous administration of Cromwell alone preserved the external tranquillity of the empire, and, under that government, the rights of the subject, and especially the claims of religious freedom, were habitually respected; but all the elements of disorder and devastation existed, in unseen activity, beneath the surface of society. The presbyterians, deprived of political power, cherished all their old intolerance, exacerbated by vindictiveness. The royalists were not slow to perceive, that they hated independency—which, in this instance, may be taken as the exponent of religious freedom, with even more bitterness than they had ever testified against prelacy in the palmy days of its reign of terror. Hence they reckoned, and rightly as the event proved, upon the speedy co-operation of that faction. The army, on the contrary, was chiefly composed of independents—men whose devotion to freedom was the second table of their law—the secular phase of an enthusiastic religion. The death of Cromwell was the removal of the keystone of the uncemented arch, and the result was the subsidence of the whole fabric into irreparable ruin.

The weight and value of Cromwell can only be truly estimated from the effects produced by his decease; and the observations of Mr. Macaulay on this point are as admirable for their truth as they are for their force and beauty. He says, “At the time of which we speak, the violence of religious and political enemies rendered a stable and happy settlement next to impossible. The choice lay, not between Cromwell and liberty, but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well, no man can doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of the thirty years which succeeded it—the darkest and most disgraceful in the English annals. Cromwell was evidently laying, though in an irregular manner, the foundations of an admirable system. Never before had religious liberty and the freedom of discussion been enjoyed in a greater degree. Never had the national honour been better upheld abroad, or the seat of justice better filled at home. And it was rarely that any opposition, which stopped short of open rebellion, provoked the resentment of the liberal and magnanimous usurper. The institutions which he had established, as set down in the “Instrument of Government,” and the “Humble Petition and Advice,” were excellent. His practice, it is true, too often departed from the theory of these institutions. But, had he lived a few years longer, it is probable that his institutions would have survived him, and that his arbitrary practice would have died with him. His power had not been consecrated by ancient prejudices. It was upheld only by his great personal qualitics. Little, therefore, was to be dreaded from a second protector, unless he were also a second Oliver Cromwell. The events which followed his decease are the most complete vindication of those who exerted themselves to uphold his authority; for his death dissolved the whole frame of society.”

[ocr errors]

Milton saw with the deepest anxiety the perils which threatened that cause to which he had devoted his life, and for which he was calmly prepared to lay it down. He augured at once the religious intolerance which would grow with the growth of presbyterian influence, and sought to stay its effects by the publication of three treatises, all of which appeared in 1659, and within about twelve months after the death of the protector. The first of these is entitled, “A Treatise of the Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes.”

In the commencement of this latter treatise, he evidently refers to the former also, as equally forming part of his design. “Two things there be,” he says, “which have been ever found working much mischief to the church of God and the advancement of truth—force on one side restraining, and hire on the other side corrupting, the teachers thereof. Few ages have been, since the ascension of our Saviour, wherein the one of these two, or both together, have not prevailed. It can be at no time, therefore, unseasonable to speak of these things, since by them the church is either in continual detriment and oppression, or in continual danger. The former shall be at this time my argument; the latter as I shall find God disposing me, and opportunity inviting.”

He next proceeds to lay down the general proposition to be proved, “That for belief or practice in religion, according to this conscientious persuasion, no man ought to be punished or molested by any outward force on earth whatsoever, I distrust not, through God's implored assistance, to make plain by these following arguments:—First, it cannot be denied, being the main foundation of our protestant religion, that we of these ages, having no other Divine rule or authority from without us, warrantable to one another as a common ground, but the Holy Scripture, and no other within us but the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so interpreting that scripture

* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 522.

as warrantable only to ourselves, and to such whose consciences we can so persuade, can have no other ground in matters of religion but only from the Scriptures. And these being not possible to be understood without this Divine illumination, which no man can know at all times to be in himself, much less to be at any time for certain in any other, it follows clearly, that no man or body of men in these times can be the infallible judges or determiners in matters of religion to any other men's consciences but their own.” After demonstrating this position by a variety of scriptural arguments, he says, with reference to the apostles and dfortiori to ordinary ministers, “Having nodominion over the faithf or conscience of the flock whom they are to feed, not by constraint, neither as being lords over God's heritage;” I and then adds, “But some will object, that this overthrows all church discipline, all censure of errors, if no man can determine. My answer is, that what they hear is plain scripture, which forbids not church sentence or determining, but as it ends in violence upon the conscience unconvinced. Let whoso will interpret or determine, so it be according to true church discipline, which is exercised on them only who have willingly joined themselves in that covenant of union, and proceeds only to a separation from the rest, proceeds never to any corporal enforcement or forfeiture of money, which in all spiritual things are the two arms of Antichrist, not of the true church; the one being an inquisition, the other no better than a temporal indulgence of sin for money, whether by the church exacted or by the magistrate; both the one and the other a temporal satisfaction for what Christ hath satisfied eternally; a popish commuting of penalty, corporal for spiritual; a satisfaction to man, especially to the magistrate, for what and to whom we owe none: these and more are the injustices of force and fining in religion, be

* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 523. + 2 Cor. i. 24. # 1 Pet. v. 2, 8.

« AnteriorContinuar »