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mourning weed, with ashes upon her head, and tears abundantly flowing from her eyes, to behold so many of her children exposed at once, and thrust from things of dearest necessity, because their conscience could not assent to things which the bishops thought indifferent? What more binding than conscience? What more free than indifferency? Cruel, then, must that indifferency needs be that shall violate the strict necessity of conscience; merciless and inhuman that free choice and liberty that shall break asunder the bonds of religion! Let the astrologer be dismayed at the portentous blaze of comets, and impressions in the air, as foretelling troubles and changes to states: I shall believe there cannot be a more ill-boding sign to a nation (God turn the omen from us!) than when the inhabitants, to avoid insufferable grievances at home, are enforced by heaps to forsake their native country.” He next proceeds to show the evils of a purely political kind resulting to any country from the rival power—the imperium in imperio—of a privileged hierarchy. He demonstrates that it is incompatible with a well-regulated monarchical constitution—that it soils and degrades the sanctity of ecclesiastical discipline—that it drains themational wealth, not for the purposes of secular education and religious teaching, but for aggrandizing the plethoric state of prelates and dignitaries; while it leaves the working clergy in penury and neglect, distributing, to use his own words, “a moderate maintenance to every painful minister, that now scarce sustains his family with bread, while the prelates revel like Belshazzar, with their full carouses in goblets, and vessels of gold snatched from God's temple.” In this respect it may be observed, in passing, the Anglican, like the Roman, church, may boast its immutability. In our own day, we have heard a similar complaint from a dignitary of the church, as unlike to Milton in his motives, sentiments, and style, as he was in his official position. The late Rev. Sydney Smith, in his well-known letter to Archdeacon Singleton, exclaims—“Why is the Church of England to be only an assemblage of beggars and bishops? The Right Reverend Dives in the palace, and Lazarus in orders at his gate, doctored by dogs, and comforted with crumbs.” For the remedy of these multiplied evils, he looks to the Reformation commenced in England, and more happily prosecuted in Scotland; and after indignantly referring to the Royal policy to embroil them in “a war fit for Cain to be the leader of an abhorred, a cursed, a fraternal war”—he breaks out into the following animated apostrophe;— “Go on both hand in hand, O nations! never to be disunited; be the praise and the heroic song of all posterity; merit this, but seek only virtue, not to extend your limits; (for what needs to win a fading triumphant laurel out of the tears of wretched men?) but to settle the pure worship of God in his church, and justice in the state: then shall the hardest difficulties smooth out themselves before ye; envy shall sink to hell, craft and malice be confounded, whether it be homebred mischief or outlandish cunning; yea, other nations will then covet to serve ye, for lordship and victory are but the pages of justice and virtue. Commit securely to true wisdom the vanquishing and uncasing of craft and subtlety, which are but her two runagates: join your invincible might to do worthy and godlike deeds; and then he that seeks to break your union, a cleaving curse be his inheritance to all generations!” Milton next commends the representative element in the British constitution, which he compares to the apostolic mode of election in the church, and derives from it an argument in favour of the appointment of all spiritual functionaries by the collective suffrage of the members of churches, and the total dissociation of every religious body from all secular authority, whether legislative or executive. He shows that no objections against running into extremes should withhold the Parliament from making this separation absolute and complete; urging that this avoidance of ex
tremes is only justifiable in matters which are morally indifferent; but that in such a case as this, involving the most sound considerations, “we ought to hie us from evil like a torrent, and rid ourselves of corrupt discipline, as we would shake fire out of our bosoms.” He traces the multiplied evils which prelacy had produced in England for nearly twelve hundred years, and shows that in proportion to the political power possessed by the priesthood, have ever been the corruption and decay of religion, the demoralization of the age, and the perpetration of every species of cruelty. After a majestic description of the terrors of legitimate spiritual discipline, he thus contrasts them with the coarse and unauthorized powers clamoured for by the sordid selfishness of the bishops:— “Sir, would you know what the remonstrance of these men would have, what their petition implies? They entreat us that we would not be weary of those insupportable grievances that our shoulders have hitherto cracked under; they beseech us that we would think them fit to be our justices of peace, our lords, our highest officers of state, though they come furnished with no more experience than they learnt between the cook and the manciple, or more profoundly at the college audit, or the regent house, or, to come to their deepest insight, at their patron's table; they would request us to endure still the rustling of their silken cassocks, and that we would burst our midriffs, rather than laugh to see them under sail in all their lawn and sarcenet, their shrouds and tackle, with a geometrical rhomboides upon their heads; they would bear us in hand that we must of duty still appear before them once a year in Jerusalem, like good circumcised males and females, to be taxed by the poll, to be sconced our head-money, our twopences, in their chanderly shop-book of Easter. They pray us that it would please us to let them still hale us, and worry us with their ban dogs and pursuivants; and that it would please the parliament that they may yet have the whipping, fleecing, and flaying of us in their diabolical courts, to tear the flesh from our bones, and into our wide wounds, instead of balm, to pour in the oil of tartar, vitriol, and mercury; surely, a right-reasonable, innocent, and soft-hearted petition! O the relenting bowels of the fathers! Can this be granted them, unless God have smitten us with frenzy from above, and with a dazzling giddiness at noonday?” It is a grand peculiarity of Milton's mind that in its most intense excitement it rises to an elevation from which material and temporal things are invisible; and only regains its calmness after a rapt sojourn among the grandeurs that are “unseen and eternal.” When contemplating from the distance of years the composition of an epic poem which should immortalize his name and illustrate the literature of his country, he placed its scene amidst the romantic traditions of ancient Britain. But when the inspiration came, monarchs, Druids, and bards were forgotten together; and, obeying a higher vocation, “he passed the flaming bounds of space and time.” It is under a similar influence that, with his imagination kindled and expanded, as he gained ampler views of the glorious possibilities of a state of perfect religious freedom, he closes with the following sublime and perhaps unrivalled invocation :“Thou, therefore, that sittest in light and glory unapproachable, Parent of angels and men! next, thee I implore, Omnipotent King, Redeemer of that lost remnant whose nature thou didst assume—ineffable and everlasting love! and thou, the third subsistence of Divine infinitude, illuming Spirit, the joy and solace of created things!—one Impersonal Godhead! look upon this thy poor and almost spent and expiring church: leave her not thus a prey to those importunate wolves that wait and think long till they devour thy tender flock; these wild boars that have broke into thy vineyard, and left the print of their polluting hoofs on the souls of thy servants. O let them not bring about their damned designs that stand now at the entrance of the bottomless pit,
expecting the watchword to open and let out those dreadful locusts and scorpions, to re-involve us in that pitchy cloud of infernal darkness, where we shall never more see the sun of thy truth again, never hope for the cheerful dawn, never more hear the bird of morning sing! Be moved with pity at the afflicted state of this our shaken monarchy, that now lies labouring under her throes, and struggling against the grudges of more dreaded calamities.
“O Thou, that, after the impetuous rage of five bloody inundations, and the succeeding sword of intestine war, soaking the land in her own gore, didst pity the sad and ceaseless revolution of our swift and thick-coming sorrows: when we were quite breathless, of thy free grace didst motion peace and terms of covenant with us; and having first well nigh freed us from antichristian thraldom, didst build up this Britannic empire to a glorious and enviable height, with all her daughter islands about her: stay us in this felicity; let not the obstinacy of our half obedience and will-worship bring forth that viper of sedition, that for these fourscore years hath been breeding to eat through the entrails of our peace; but let her cast her abortive spawn without the danger of this travailing and throbbing kingdom; that we may still remember, in our solemn thanksgiving, how for us the northern ocean, even to the frozen Thule, was scattered with the proud shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada ; and the very maw of hell ransacked, and made to give up her concealed destruction, ere she could vent it in that horrible and damned blast.
“O how much more glorious will those former deliverances appear, when we shall know them not only to have saved us from greatest miseries past, but to have reserved us for greatest happiness to come! Hitherto thou hast but freed us, and that not fully, from the unjust and tyrannous claim of thy foes; now unite us entirely, and appropriate us to thyself; tie us everlastingly in willing homage to the prerogative of thy eternal throne.