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may well be doubted whether the whole compass of literature furnishes a treatise enriched with such elevated sentiments, such glorious aspirations, and such stately and overwhelming eloquence. If our estimate of the character of the presbyterians of that day could be lowered by any additional knowledge of their proceedings, it would be by the fact that Milton's plea for unlicensed printing, while it covered them with shame, led to no practical result, but that the barbarous system of controlling literature by the fetters of the magistrate was maintained until the time when their continued baseness and treachery to the cause of freedom sickened the nation, and involved them and the Independents, who were worthy of a better fate, in one common overthrow. They even witnessed unmoved the conversion of one of the licensers themselves. This was Gilbert Mabbot, who sought his discharge from this ignominious service, according to Jolland, in 1645. This date, however, would seem to be incorrect, as a minute statement of the case is given in a weekly paper entitled “A perfect Diurnal of some Passages in Parliament, and the daily proceedings of the army under his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, from May 21st to May 28, 1649.” The statement is as follows:—“Mr. Mabbot hath long desired several members of the house, and lately the council of state, to move the house that he might be discharged of licensing books for the future, for the reasons following: viz. Because many thousands of scandalous and malignant pamphlets have been published with his name thereunto, as if he had licensed the same, (though he never saw them) on purpose (as he conceives) to prejudice him in his reputation amongst the honest party of this nation. II. Because that employment (he conceives) is unjust and illegal, as to the ends of its first institution, viz., to stop the press from publishing anything that might discover the corruption of church and state, in the time of popery, episcopacy, and tyranny; the better to keep the people in ignorance, and carry on their popish, factious, and tyrannical designs, for the enslaving and destruction both of the bodies and souls of all the free people of this nation. III. Because licensing is as great a monopoly as ever was in this nation, in that all men's judgments, reasons, &c., are to be bound up in the licenser's (as to licensing); for if the author of any sheet, book, or treatise, write not to please the fancy, and come within the compass of the licenser's judgment, then he is not to receive any stamp of authority for publishing thereof. IV. Because it is lawful (in his judgment) to print any book, sheet, &c., without licensing, so as the author and printers do subscribe their true names thereunto, that so they may be liable to answer the contents thereof; and if they offend therein, then to be punished by such laws as are or shall be for those cases provided. A committee of the council of state being satisfied with these and other reasons of Mr. Mabbot concerning licensing, the council of state reports to the house: upon which the house ordered this day that the said Mr. Mabbot be discharged of licensing books for the future.”
YILTON'S SONNETS-DOMESTIC INCIDENTS--CONDUCT OF THE PRESBY
TERIANS-PUBLICATION OF THE TENURE OF KINGS AND MAGIS-
1645 constitutes an interval in which we find Milton refreshing his mind after a campaign of controversy with the more congenial pursuits of imaginative literature. He now published, with his name, an edition of all his English, Latin, and Italian poems. Of the twenty-three sonnets which Milton has left us, only ten were published in this volume, the rest having been produced subsequently. Dr. Johnson says, that“ they do not deserve any particular criticism, for of the best it can only be said, that they are not bad; and perhaps only the eighth and the twenty-first are truly entitled to this slender commendation. The fabric of a sonnet, however adapted to the Italian language, has never succeeded in ours, which having greater variety of termination requires the rhymes to be often changed.” Alluding once in conversation to the inferiority of Milton's sonnets to the other efforts of his muse, Dr. Johnson characteristically observed, “ Milton was a genius that could carve a Colossus from a rock, but could not cut heads upon cherry stones ;"
and there can be no doubt that such a mind as his moved with unwonted constraint under the fetters imposed by the frequent rhymes essential to the construction of the sonnet. It is, indeed, best adapted to the language of Italy, in which it is indigenous, and does not arrive at perfection when cultivated in any other soil. Mr. Macaulay takes a different and somewhat novel view of these publications. “Traces,” he says, “of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in all his works, but it is most strongly displayed in the sonnets. Those remarkable poems have been underrated by critics who have not understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is none of the ingenuity of Filicagain the thought—none of the hard and brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style. They are simple but majestic records of the feelings of the poet; as little tricked out for the public eye as his diary would have been. A victory, an unexpected attack upon the city, amomentary fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown out against one of his books, a dream which for a short time restored to him that beautiful face over which the grave had closed for ever, led him to musings which, without effort, shaped themselves into verse. The unity of sentiment and severity of style which characterise these little pieces remind us of the Greek Anthology, or, perhaps, still more, of the Collects of the English Liturgy. The noble poem on the Massacres of Piedmont, is strictly a collect in verse. “The sonnets are more or less striking according as the occasions which gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are almost without exception dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would, indeed, be scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences as to the character of a writer, from passages directly egotistical. But the qualities which we have ascribed to Milton, though, perhaps, most strongly marked in those parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are distinguishable in every page, and impart
to all his writings, prose and poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness."*
Of the sonnets thus specially referred to by these critics, the two following must suffice as specimens. The former was written when an assault on the city was anticipated, the royal forces having advanced as near to it as Brentford. “ Captain, or Colonel, or Knight in arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms.
That call fame o'er such gentle acts as these,
Whatever clime the sun's bright circle warms.t
The great Emathian conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower
Of sad Electra's poet had the power
To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare.” The second is addressed to the Lord General Cromwell, and is as follows: “ Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud,
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough'd,
Hast rear'd God's trophies, and his work pursued;
And Dunbar field resounds thy praises loud,
To conquer still; Peace hath her victories
No less renown'd than War: new foes arise
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.” In the year 1646, the wife of Milton gave birth to her * Edinburgh Review, vol. xlii. pp. 324, 325.
+ Milton evidently had in his mind Horace's Ode to Censorinus. Carminum. Lib. iv., od. 8.
Occulta spolia, et plures de pace triumphos.-Juvenal.