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whose malice they cannot resist, the objects of their religious adoration: while those elevate impotent tyrants, in order to shield them from destruction, into the rank of gods; and, to their own cost, consecrate the pests of the human race. But against this dark array of long-received opinions, superstitions, obloquy, and fears, which some dread even more than the enemy himself, the English had to contend; and all this, under the light of better information, and favoured by an impulse from above, they overcame with such singular cnthusiasm and bravery, that, great as were the numbers engaged in the contest, the grandeur of conception and loftiness of spirit which were universally displayed, merited for each individual more than a mediocrity of fame; and Britain, which was formerly styled the hot-bed of tyranny, will hereafter deserve to be celebrated for endless ages as a soil most genial to the growth of liberty. During the mighty struggle, no anarchy, no licentiousness was seen; no illusions of glory, no extravagant emulation of the ancients inflamed them with a thirst for ideal liberty; but the rectitude of their lives, and the sobriety of their habits, taught them the only true and safe road to real liberty; and they took up arms only to defend the sanctity of the laws and the rights of conscience.”
It will be obvious, that, in the concluding sentence, Milton is expressing his respect for the Puritans, with whose religious sentiments and political principles he felt the closest sympathy. Of all classes of mankind who have played a conspicuous part in history, the Puritans, perhaps, have been the most misunderstood. The reason of this is, that they have been chiefly portrayed in history by those who were incapable of understanding their character, and committed by political considerations to misrepresent their conduct. It is not presumptuous to predict, that a day will come when men will desiderate a fairer history of these remarkable men, as illustrating the annals of an era which caught, untaught by the beams of a later civilization, the long-obstructed
* Prose Works, vol. i., pp. 216–218.
radiance of the apostolic age. One tribute, however, to their honour must ever be rescued from oblivion, by a spirit of eloquence imbibed from the loving study of Milton himself, and as such, claiming a right to adorn these pages:– “The Puritans,” says Mr. Macaulay, “were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not content with acknowledging, in general terms, an overruling Providence, they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being, for whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too minute. To know him, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with them the great end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on the intolerable brightness, and to commune with Him face to face. Hence originated their contempt for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and meanest of mankind seemed to vanish, when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race from him on whom their own eyes were constantly fixed. They recognised no title to superiority but his favour; and, confident of that favour, they despised all the accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the registers of heralds, they felt assured that they were recorded in the Book of Life. If their steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not made with hands; their diadems, crowns of glory which should never fade away! On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked down with contempt; for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language—nobles by the right of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious and terrible importance belonged—on whose slightest action the spirits of light and darkness looked with anxious interest, who had been destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away. Events, which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes, had been ordained on his account. For his sake empires had risen, and flourished, and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed His will, by the pen of the evangelist and the harp of the prophet. He had been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe. He had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony, by the blood of no earthly sacrifice. It was for him that the sun had been darkened, that the rocks had been rent, that the dead had arisen, that all nature had shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God!” It has been already said that the Queen of Sweden, on reading the controversy between Salmasius and Milton, openly manifested her preference for the English statesman. The testimonies of her previous regard for his opponent, while they excited the jealousy of his wife, were doubtless either unknown to or discredited by Milton, and he consequently honours her in this work with one of the most eloquent panegyrics to be found in his writings. “How happy am I,” he says, “beyond my utmost expectations ! (for to the praise of eloquence, except as far as eloquence consists in the force of truth, I lay no claim,) that, when the critical exigencies of my country demanded that I should undertake the arduous and invidious task of impugning the rights of kings, I should meet with so illustrious, so truly a royal evidence to my integrity, and to this truth, that I had not written a word against kings, but only against tyrants, the spots and the pests of royalty P But you, O Augusta, pos* Edinburgh Review, vol. xlii. pp. 338–340.
sessed not only so much magnanimity, but were so irradiated by the glorious beams of wisdom and of virtue, that you not only read with patience, with incredible impartiality, with a serene complacency of countenance, what might seem to be levelled against your rights and dignity, but expressed such an opinion of the defender of those rights, as may well be considered an adjudication of the palm of victory to his opponent. You, O queen! will for ever be the object of my homage, my veneration, and my love; for it was your greatness of soul, so honourable to yourself and so auspicious to me, which served to efface the unfavourable impression against me at other courts, and to rescue me from the evil surmises of other sovereigns. What a high and favourable opinion must foreigners conceive, and your own subjects for ever entertain, of your impartiality and justice, when, in a matter which so nearly interested the fate of sovereigns and the rights of your crown, they saw you sit down to the discussion with as much equanimity and composure, as you would to determine a dispute between two private individuals! It was not in vain that you made such large collections of books, and so many monuments of learning—not, indeed, that they could contribute much to your instruction, but because they so well teach your subjects to appreciate the merits of your reign, and the rare excellence of your virtue and your wisdom; for the Divinity himself seems to have inspired you with a love of wisdom and a thirst for improvement, beyond what any books ever could have produced. It excites our astonishment to see a force of intellect so truly divine, a particle of celestial flame so resplendently pure, in a region so remote; of which an atmosphere, so darkened with clouds and so chilled with frosts, could not extinguish the light nor repress the operations. The rocky and barren soil, which is often as unfavourable to the growth of genius as of plants, has not impeded the maturation of your faculties; and that country, so rich in metallic ore, which appears like a cruel stepmother to others, seems to have been a fostering parent to you, and, after the most strenuous attempts, to have at last produced a progeny of pure gold. I would invoke you, Christina! as the only child of the renowned and victorious Adolphus, if your merit did not as much eclipse his as wisdom excels strength, and the arts of peace the havoc of war. Henceforth the queen of the south will not be alone renowned in history; for there is a queen of the north, who would not only be worthy to appear in the court of the wise king of the Jews, or any king of equal wisdom, but to whose court others may from all parts repair, to behold so fair a heroine, so bright a pattern of all the royal virtues; and to the crown of whose praise this may well be added, that neither in her conduct nor her appearance is there any of the forbidding reserve or the ostentatious parade of royalty. She herself seems the least conscious of her own attributes of sovereignty; and her thoughts are always fixed on something greater and more sublime than the glitter of a crown. In this respect her example may well make innumerable kings hide their diminished heads. She may, if such is the fatality of the Swedish nation, abdicate the sovereignty, but she can never lay aside the queen; for her reign has proved, that she is fit to govern, not only Sweden, but the world.” Milton next addresses himself to the calumnies heaped upon him by his unprincipled opponent; and in replying to them, records that concise autobiography which gives a peculiar interest to this Second Defence, and which constitutes, indeed, the skeleton of all the numerous memoirs of him which have been given to the public. Like the present sketch, it is chiefly a history of his successive works. One fact connected with these requires to be particularly mentioned: it is said that he received a thousand pounds from the government. In reference to this subject Milton says:— “Such were the fruits of my private studies, which I gratuitously presented to the church and to the state; and for * Prose Works, vol. i. pp. 249–251.