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the acknowledged greatness and vigour of his intellectual powers, the extent of his learning, the patience of his industry, and the unquestionable value of the works which resulted from this rare combination. The “great promises” to which Dr. Johnson refers, were all contained in the following simple statement:-‘‘When I was preparing to pass over into Sicily and Greece, the melancholy intelligence which I received of the civil commotions in England made me alter my purpose; for I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad, when my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home.” If the writer considered that these words committed Milton to the necessity of shouldering his musket and marching off to the scene of conflict, his foolish error might have been corrected by the language of Milton himself, in his ‘Second Defence of the People of England,’ which it is quite probable Johnson never read. “Relying on the assistance of God, they indeed repelled servitude with the most justifiable war; and though I claim no share of their peculiar praise, I can easily defend myself against the charge (if any charge of that nature should be brought against me) of timidity or of indolence. For I did not for any other reason decline the toils and dangers of war than that I might in another way, with much more efficacy, and with not less danger to myself, render assistance to my countrymen, and discover a mind neither shrinking from adverse fortune, nor actuated by any improper fear of calumny or of death. Since from my childhood, I had been devoted to the more liberal studies, and was always more powerful in my intellect than in my body, avoiding the labours of the camp, in which any robust common soldier might easily have surpassed me, I betook myself to those weapons which I could wield with the most effect, and I conceived that I was acting wisely when I thus brought my better and more valuable faculties, those which constituted my principal strength and consequence, to the assistance of my country and her most honourable cause.”
Johnson, indeed, speaks of his veneration for Milton; though it must be evident to every one who is intimately acquainted with their characters, that the biographer was destitute both of the mental and moral qualities which alone could enable him to appreciate the noble character of the poet; and while he sneers at the school as a “wonderworking academy,” because it was Milton's, he obligingly seeks to rescue that employment from contempt, because he himself happened to have been engaged in it.
The convulsion of the times, which was now approaching its crisis, withdrew the mind of Milton from its cherished object, the pursuit of poetry and literature, and impelled him to the front ranks of that controversial fray which, in the then unexpected result, proved to be the all-important and decisive conflict. The contest between Charles and his people—the history and sequel of which will be memorable so long as the greatness of human nature shall rise against political and spiritual despotism, and so long as the infirmity of that nature shall allow of the pitiable sequence of reaction—was the battle not of powers, but of principles. And while Milton never doubted of the prowess or the success of the forces banded against the tyrant in the field, he felt that the opposition was directed against the palpable, material results of those principles, which were themselves but scantily understood. His sagacious mind foresaw that while the external machinery was removed, the motive power might remain; and that one engine of tyranny might be displaced, only to make room for another, which, veiled under an illusory name, might be mightier for mischief. Hence his great purpose was to avail himself of the position he held in advance of his age, in order to prepare his countrymen for the future, and to enable them, by a wise cognizance of the signs of the times, to evade the perils of the storm without splitting on the rocks that beset the harbour.
In this most critical position of public affairs, he has recorded, and thus enabled us to present, in his own language, the facts and feelings by which his course was guided. “I returned to my native country,” he says, “after an absence of one year and about three months, at the time when Charles, having broken the peace, was renewing what is called the episcopal war with the Scots, in which the royalists, being routed in the first encounter, and the English being universally and justly disaffected, the necessity of his affairs at last obliged him to convene a parliament. As soon as I was able, I hired a spacious house in the city for myself and my books; where I again, with rapture, renewed my literary pursuits, and where I awaited the issue of the contest, which I trusted to the wise conduct of Providence, and to the courage of the people. The vigour of the parliament had begun to humble the pride of the bishops. As long as the liberty of speech was no longer subject to control, all mouths began to be opened against the bishops; some complained of the vices of the individuals, others of those of the order. They said that it was unjust that they alone should differ from the model of other reformed churches; that the government of the church should be according to the pattern of other churches, and particularly the Word of God. This awakened all my attention and my zeal. I saw that a way was opening for the establishment of real liberty; that the foundation was laying for the deliverance of man from the yoke of slavery and superstition; that the principles of religion, which were the first objects of our care, would exert a salutary influence on the manners and constitution of the republic; and as I had, from my youth, studied the distinctions between religious and civil rights, I perceived that if I ever wished to be of use, I ought at least not to be wanting to my country, to the church, and to so many of my fellow-Christians, in a crisis of so much danger; I therefore determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my
talents and my industry to this one important object. I accordingly wrote two books to a friend, concerning the reformation of the Church of England.”
That the prosecution of this purpose was distasteful to him, and only undertaken under an imperious sense of duty, we learn from his own acknowledgment; for he laments that he was forced “ to interrupt the pursuit of his hopes, and to leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark on a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes, from beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies.” And, again: “For surely to every good and peaceable man, it must, in nature, needs be a hateful thing to be the displeaser and molester of thousands; much better would it like him, doubtless, to be the messenger of gladness and contentment, which is his chief intended business to all mankind, but that they resist and oppose their own true happiness. But when God commands to take the trumpet, and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say, or what he shall conceal. If he shall think to be silent, as Jeremiah did, because of the reproach and the derision he met with daily, and all his familiar friends watched for his halting,' to be revenged on him for speaking the truth, he would be forced to confess as he confessed : ‘His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones: I was weary with forbearing, and could not stay.' * * * * Lastly, I should not choose this manner of writing, wherein, knowing myself inferior to myself—led by the genial power of nature to another task, I have the use, as I may account, but of my left hand.”*
In describing the train of reasoning pursued in the two books “Of Reformation in England, and the Causes that
* 'The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy' Prose Works, vol. ii. pp. 474, 477.
hitherto have hindered it,” I shall adopt, with but little alteration, the brief but complete analysis of Toland. In the first, he points out what were, during and subsequent to the reign of Henry VIII., the real impediments to a perfect reformation in this kingdom. These he reduces under two principal heads—the retention of popish ceremonies, and the confiding to diocesan bishops illegitimate powers from which the people were excluded. “Our ceremonies,” he says, “are senseless in themselves, and serve for nothing but either to facilitate our return to popery, or to hide the defects of better knowledge, or to set off the pomp of prelacy.” With regard to the bishops, he affirms that, “at the beginning, though they had removed the pope, they hugged the popedom, and shared the authority among themselves.” That, in King Edward VI.'s time, “they were, with their prostitute gravities, the common stoles to countenance every politic fetch that was then on foot. If a toleration for mass was to be begged of the king for his sister Mary, lest Charles V. should be angry, who but the grave prelates, Cranmer and Ridley, should be sent to extort it from the young king? But out of the mouth of that godly and royal child, Christ himself returned such an awful repulse to these halting and time-serving prelates, that, after much bold importunity, they went their way, not without shame and tears. When the Lord Sudley, Admiral of England, was wrongfully to lose his life, no man could be found fitter than Latimer to divulge, in his sermon, the forged accusations laid to his charge, to defame him with the people. Cranmer, one of the king's executors, and the other bishops did, to gratify the ambition of a traitor, consent to exclude from the succession, not only Mary the papist, but also Elizabeth the protestant, though before declared by themselves the lawful issue of their late master.” In Queen Elizabeth's reign, he imputes the obstruction of a further reformation still to the bishops; and then proceeds to prove, from antiquity, that all ecclesiastical elections belonged to