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  • 1879
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serious deductions. His negligence is such as to amount to an absence of construction. He who, in his verse, trained the sentence with delicate sensibility to follow his guiding hand into exquisite syntax, seems in his prose writing to abandon his meaning to shift for itself. Here Milton compares disadvantageously with Hooker. Hooker’s elaborate sentence, like the sentence of Demosthenes, is composed of parts so hinged, of clauses so subordinated to the main thought, that we foresee the end from the beginning, and close the period with a sense of perfect roundness and totality. Milton does not seem to have any notion of what a period means. He begins anywhere, and leaves off, not when the sense closes, but when he is out of breath. We might have thought this pell-mell huddle of his words was explained, if not excused, by the exigencies of the party pamphlet, which cannot wait. But the same asyntactle disorder is equally found in the _History of Britain_, which he had in hand for forty years. Nor is it only the Miltonic sentence which is incoherent; the whole arrangement of his topics is equally loose, disjointed, and desultory. His inspiration comes from impulse. Had he stayed to chastise his emotional writing by reason and the laws of logic, he would have deprived himself of the sources of his strength.

These serious faults are balanced by virtues of another kind. Putting Bacon aside, the condensed force and poignant brevity of whose aphoristic wisdom has no parallel in English, there is no other prosaist who possesses anything like Milton’s command over the resources of our language. Milton cannot match the musical harmony and exactly balanced periods of his predecessor Hooker. He is without the power of varied illustration, and accumulation of ornamental circumstance, possessed by his contemporary, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). But neither of these great writers impresses the reader with a sense of unlimited power such as we feel to reside in Milton. Vast as is the wealth of magnificent words which he flings with both hands carelessly upon the page, we feel that there is still much more in reserve.

The critics have observed (Collier’s _Poetical Decameron_) that as Milton advanced in life he gradually disused the compound words he had been in the habit of making for himself. However this may be, his words are the words of one who made a study of the language, as a poet studies language, searching its capacities for the expression of surging emotion. Jeremy Taylor’s prose is poetical prose. Milton’s prose is not poetical prose, but a different thing, the prose of a poet; not like Taylor’s, loaded with imagery on the outside; but coloured by imagination from within. Milton is the first English writer who, possessing in the ancient models a standard of the effect which could be produced by choice of words, set himself to the conscious study of our native tongue with a firm faith in its as yet undeveloped powers as an instrument of thought.

The words in Milton’s poems have been counted, and it appears that he employs 8000, while Shakspeare’s plays and poems yield about 15,000. From this it might be inferred that the Miltonic vocabulary is only half as rich as that of Shakspeare. But no inference can be founded upon the absolute number of words used by any writer. We must know, not the total of different words, but the _proportion_ of different words to the whole of any writer’s words. Now to furnish a list of 100 different words the English Bible requires 531 common words, Shakspeare 164, Milton 135 only. This computation is founded on the poems; it would be curious to have the same test tried upon the prose writings, though no such test can be as trustworthy as the educated ear of a listener to a continued reading.

It is no part of a succinct biography, such as the present, to furnish an account in detail of the various controversies of the time, as Milton engaged in them. The reader will doubtless be content with the, bare indication of the subjects on which he wrote. The whole number of Milton’s political pamphlets Is twenty-five. Of these, twenty-one are written in English, and four in Latin, Of the _Tractate of Education_ and the four divorce pamphlets something has been already said. Of the remaining twenty, nine, or nearly half, relate to church government, or ecclesiastical affairs; eight treat of the various crises of the civil strife; and two are personal vindications of himself against one of his antagonists. There remains one tract of which the subject is of a more general and permanent nature, the best known of all the series, _Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England_. The whole series of twenty-five extends over a period of somewhat less than twenty years; the earliest, viz., _Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it_, having been published in 1641; the latest, entitled, _A ready and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth_, coming out in March, 1660, after the torrent of royalism had set in, which was to sweep away the men and the cause to which Milton had devoted himself. Milton’s pen thus accompanied the whole of the Puritan revolution from the modest constitutional opposition in which It commenced, through its unexpected triumph, to its crushing overthrow by the royalist and clerical reaction.

The autumn of 1641 brought with it a sensible lull in the storm of revolutionary passion. Indeed, there began to appear all the symptoms of a reaction, and of the formation of a solid conservative party, likely to be strong enough to check, or even to suppress, the movement. The impulse seemed to have spent itself, and a desire for rest from political agitation began to steal over the nation. Autumn and the harvest turn men’s thoughts towards country occupations and sports. The King went off to Scotland in August; the Houses adjourned till the 20th October. The Scottish army had been paid off, and had repassed the border; the Scottish commissioners and preachers had left London.

It was a critical moment for the Puritan party. Some very considerable triumphs they had gained. The archenemy Strafford had been brought to the block; Laud was in the tower; the leading members of Convocation, bishops, deans, and archdeacons, had been heavily fined; the Star Chamber and the High Commission Court had been abolished; the Stannary and Forestal jurisdictions restrained. But the Puritan movement aimed at far more than this. It was not only that the root-and-branch men were pushing for a generally more levelling policy, but the whole Puritan party was committed to a struggle with the hierarchy of the Established Church. It was not so much that they demanded more and more reform, with the growing appetite of revolution, but that as long as bishops existed, nothing that had been wrested from them was secure. The Puritans could not exist in safety side by side with a church whose principle was that there was no church without the apostolic succession. The abolition of episcopacy and the substitution of the Presbyterian platform was, so it then seemed, a bare measure of necessary precaution, and not merely the extravagant demand of dissatisfied spirits. Add to this, that it was well understood by those near enough to the principal actors in the drama, that the concessions made by the Court had been easily made, because they could be taken back, when the time should come, with equal ease. Even the most moderate men, who were satisfied with the amount of reform already obtained, must have trembled at its insecurity. The Puritan leaders must have viewed with dismay the tendency in the nation towards a reaction in favour of things as they were.

It was upon this condition of the public mind that Milton persistently poured pamphlet after pamphlet, successive vials of apocalyptic wrath. He exhausts all the resources of rhetoric, and plays upon every note in the gamut of public feeling; that he may rouse the apathetic, confirm the wavering, dumbfound the malignant; where there was zeal, to fan it into flame; where there was opposition, to sow and browbeat it by indignant scorn and terrific denunciation. The first of these manifestoes was (1) _Of Reformation touching Church Discipline_, of which I have already spoken. This was immediately followed by (2) _Of Prelaticall Episcopacy_. This tract was a reply, in form, to a publication of Archbishop Usher. It was about the end of May, 1641, that Usher had come forward on the breach with his _Judgment of Dr. Rainolds touching the Original of Episcopacy_, Rainolds, who had been President of Corpus (1598-1607), had belonged to the Puritan party in his day, had refused a bishopric, and was known, like Usher himself, to be little favourable to the exclusive claims of the high prelatists. He was thus an unexceptionable witness to adduce in favour of the apostolic origin of the distinction between bishop and presbyter. Usher, in editing Rainolds’ opinions, had backed them up with all the additional citations which his vast reading could supply.

Milton could not speak with the weight that attached to Usher, the most learned Churchman of the age, who had spent eighteen years in going through a complete course of fathers and councils. But, in the first paragraph of his answer, Milton adroitly puts the controversy upon a footing by which antiquarian research is put out of court. Episcopacy is either of human or divine origin. If of human origin, it may be either retained or abolished, as may be found expedient. If of divine appointment, it must be proved to be so out of Scripture. If this cannot be proved out of inspired Scripture, no accumulation of merely human assertion of the point can be of the least authority. Having thus shut out antiquity as evidence in the case, he proceeds nevertheless to examine his opponent’s authorities, and sets them aside by a style of argument which has more of banter than of criticism.

One incident of this collision between Milton, young and unknown, and the venerable prelate, whom he was assaulting with the rude wantonness of untempered youth, deserves to be mentioned here. Usher had incautiously included the Ignatian epistles among his authorities. This laid the most learned man of the day at the mercy of an adversary of less reading than himself. Milton, who at least knew so much suspicion of the genuineness of these remains as Casaubon’s _Exercitations on Baronius_ and Vedelin’s edition (Geneva, 1623) could suggest, pounced upon this critical flaw, and delightedly denounced in trenchant tones this “Perkin Warbeck of Ignatius,” and the “supposititious offspring of some dozen epistles.” This rude shock it was which set Usher upon a more careful examination of the Ignatian question. The result was his well-known edition of Ignatius, printed 1642, though not published till 1644, in which he acknowledged the total spuriousness of nine epistles, and the partial interpolation of the other six. I have not noticed in Usher’s _Prolegomena_ that he alludes to Milton’s onslaught. Nor, indeed, was he called upon to do so in a scientific investigation, as Milton had brought no contribution to the solution of the question beyond sound and fury.

Of Milton’s third pamphlet, entitled (3) _Animadversions on the Remonstrants defence against Smectymnuus_, it need only be said that it is a violent personal onfall upon Joseph Hall, bishop, first, of Exeter and afterwards of Norwich. The bishop, by descending into the arena of controversy, had deprived himself of the privilege which his literary eminence should have secured to him. But nothing can excuse or reconcile us to the indecent scurrility with which he is assailed in Milton’s pages, which reflect more discredit on him who wrote them, than on him against whom they are written.

The fifth pamphlet, called (5) _An Apology against a Pamphlet called “A Modest Confutation, &c.”_ (1642), is chiefly remarkable for a defence of his own Cambridge career. A man who throws dirt, as Milton did, must not be surprised if some of it comes back to him. A son of Bishop Hall, coming forward as his father’s champion and avenger, had raked up a garbled version of Milton’s quarrel with his tutor Chappell, and by a further distortion, had brought it out in the shape that, “after an inordinate and violent youth spent at the university,” Milton had been “vomited out thence.” From the university this “alchemist of slander” follows him to the city, and declares that where Milton’s morning haunts are, he wisses not, but that his afternoons are spent in playhouses and bordelloes. Milton replies to these random charges by a lengthy account of himself and his studious habits. As the reader may expect a specimen of Milton’s prose style, I quote a part of this autobiographical paragraph:–

“I had my time, as others have who have good learning bestowed upon them, to be sent to those places where the opinion was it might be sooner attained; and, as the manner is, was not unstudied in those authors which are most commended, whereof some were grave orators and historians, whom methought I loved indeed, but as my age then was, so I understood them; others were the smooth elegiac poets, whereof the schools are not scarce; whom both for the pleasing sound of their numerous writing, which in imitation I found most easy, and most agreeable to nature’s part in me, and for their matter, which what it is there be few who know not, I was so allowed to read, that no recreation came to me better welcome…. Whence having observed them to account it the chief glory of their wit, in that they were ablest to judge, to praise, and by that could esteem themselves worthiest to love those high perfections which under one or other name they toot to celebrate, I thought with myself by every instinct and presage of nature which is not wont to be false, that what emboldened them to this task might with such diligence as they used embolden me, and that what judgment, wit, or elegance was my share, would herein best appear and best value itself by how much more wisely and with more love of virtue I should choose (let rude ears be absent) the object of not unlike praises…. Nor blame it in those years to propose to themselves such a reward as the noblest dispositions above other things in this life have sometimes preferred. Whereof not to be sensible when good and fair in one person meet, argues both a gross and shallow judgment, and withal an ungentle and swainish breast. For by the firm settling of these persuasions I became so much a proficient, that if I found those authors anywhere speaking unworthy things of themselves, or unchaste of those names which before they had extolled, this effect it wrought with me, from that time forward their art I still applauded, but the men I deplored; and above them all preferred the two famous renowners of Beatrice and Laura, who never write but honour of them to whom they devote their verse, displaying sublime and pure thoughts without transgression. And long it was not after, when I was confirmed in this opinion, that he, who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem, that is a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things, not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy.

“These reasonings together with a certain niceness of nature, an honest haughtiness and self-esteem, either of what I was or what I might be, which let envy call pride, and lastly that modesty, whereof, though not in the title-page, yet here, I may be excused to make some beseeming profession, all these uniting the supply of their natural aid together, kept me still above those low descents of mind, beneath which he must deject and plunge himself, that can agree to saleable and unlawful prostitutions.

“Next, for hear me out now, readers, that I may tell ye whither my younger feet wandered, I betook me among those lofty fables and romances which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood founded by our victorious kings, and from hence had in renown over all Christendom. There I read it in the oath of every knight, that he should defend to the expence of his best blood, or of his life if it so befel him, the honour and chastity of virgin or matron. From whence even then I learnt what a noble virtue chastity ever must be, to the defence of which so many worthies by such a dear adventure of themselves had sworn. And if I found in the story afterwards any of them by word or deed breaking that oath, I judged it the same fault of the poet as that which is attributed to Homer to have written undecent things of the gods. Only this my mind gave me, that every free and gentle spirit without that oath ought to be borne a knight, nor needed to expect the gilt spur, or the laying of a sword upon his shoulder, to stir him up both by his counsel and his arm to serve and protect the weakness of any attempted chastity. So that even those books which to many others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living, I cannot think how unless by divine indulgence, proved to me so many incitements to the love and steadfast observation of virtue.”

This is one of the autobiographical cases in these pamphlets, which are otherwise arid deserts of sand, scorched by the fire of extinct passion. It may be asked why it is that a few men, Gibbon or Milton, are indulged without challenge in talk about themselves, which would be childish vanity or odious egotism in others. When a Frenchman writes, “Nous avons tous, nous autres Francais, des seduisantes qualites”(Gaffarel), he is ridiculous. The difference is not merely that we tolerate in a man of confessed superiority what would be intolerable in an equal. This is true; but there is a further distinction of moral quality in men’s confessions. In Milton, as in Gibbon, the gratification of self-love, which attends all autobiography, is felt to be subordinated to a nobler intention. The lofty conception which Milton formed of his vocation as a poet, expands his soul and absorbs his personality. It is his office, and not himself, which he magnifies. The details of his life and nurture are important, not because they belong to him, but because he belongs, by dedication, to a high and sacred calling. He is extremely jealous, not of his own reputation, but of the credit which is due to lofty endeavour. We have only to compare Milton’s magnanimous assumption of the first place with the paltry conceit with which, in the following age of Dryden and Pope, men spoke of themselves as authors, to see the wide difference between the professional vanity of successful authorship and the proud consciousness of a prophetic mission. Milton leads a dedicated life, and has laid down for himself the law that “he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem.”

If Milton had not been the author of _Lycidas_ and _Paradise Lost_, his political pamphlets would have been as forgotten as are the thousand civil war tracts preserved in the Thomason collection in the Museum, or have served, at most, as philological landmarks. One, however, of his prose tracts has continued to enjoy some degree of credit down to the present time, for its matter as well as for its words, _Areopagitica_. This tract belongs to the year 1644, the most fertile year in Milton’s life, as in it he “brought out two of his divorce tracts, the _Tractate of Education_, and the _Areopagitica_. As Milton’s moving principle was not any preconceived system of doctrine but the passion for liberty in general, it was natural that he should plead, when occasion called, for liberty of the press, among others. The occasion was one personal to himself.

It is well known that, early in the history of printing, governments became jealous of this new instrument for influencing opinion. In England, in 1556, under Mary, the Stationers’ Company was invested with legal privileges, having the twofold object of protecting the book trade and controlling writers. All publications were required, to be registered in the register of the company. No persons could set up a press without a licence, or print anything which had not been previously approved by some official censor. The court, which had come to be known as the court of Star-chamber, exercised criminal jurisdiction over offenders, and even issued its own decrees for the regulation of printing. The arbitrary action of this court had no small share in bringing about the resistance to Charles I. But the fall of the royal authority did not mean the emancipation of the press. The Parliament had no intention of letting go the control which the monarchy had exercised; the incidence of the coercion was to be shifted from themselves upon their opponents. The Star-chamber was abolished, but its powers of search and seizure were transferred to the Company of Stationers. Licensing was to go on as before, but to be exercised by special commissioners, instead of by the Archbishop and the Bishop of London. Only whereas, before, contraband had consisted of Presbyterian books, henceforward it was Catholic and Anglican books which would be suppressed.

Such was not Milton’s idea of the liberty of thought and speech in a free commonwealth. He had himself written for the Presbyterians four unlicensed pamphlets. It was now open to him to write any number, and to get them licensed, provided they were written on the same side. This was not liberty, as he had learned it in his classics, “ubi sentire quae velis, et quae sentias dicere licet.” Over and above this encroachment on the liberty of the free citizen, it so happened that at this moment Milton himself was concerned to ventilate an opinion which was not Presbyterian, and had no chance of passing a Presbyterian licenser. His _Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce_ was just ready for press when the ordinance of 1643 came into operation. He published it without licence and without printer’s name, in defiance of the law, and awaited the consequences. There were no consequences. He repeated the offence in a second edition in February, 1644, putting his name now (the first edition had been anonymous), and dedicating it to the very Parliament whose ordinance he was setting at nought. This time the Commons, stirred up by a petition from the Company of Stationers, referred the matter to the committee of printing. It went no further. Either it was deemed inexpedient to molest so sound a Parliamentarian as Milton, or Cromwell’s “accommodation resolution” of September 13, 1644, opened the eyes of the Presbyterian zealots to the existence in the kingdom of a new, and much wider, phase of opinion, which ominously threatened the compact little edifice of Presbyterian truth that they had been erecting with a profound conviction of its exclusive orthodoxy.

The occurrence had been sufficient to give a new direction to Milton’s thoughts. Regardless of the fact that his plea for liberty in marriage had fallen upon deaf ears, he would plead for liberty of speech. The _Areopagitica, for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing_, came out in November, 1644, an unlicensed, unregistered publication, without printer’s or bookseller’s name. It was cast in the form of a speech addressed to the Parliament. The motto was taken from Euripides, and printed in the original Greek, which was not, when addressed to the Parliament of 1644, the absurdity which it would be now. The title is less appropriate, being borrowed from the _Areopagitic Discourse_ of Isocrates, between which and Milton’s _Speech_ there is no resemblance either in subject or style. All that the two productions have in common is their form. They are both unspoken orations, written to the address of a representative assembly–the one to the Boule or Senate of Athens, the other to the Parliament of England.

Milton’s _Speech_ is in his own best style; a copious flood of majestic eloquence, the outpouring of a noble soul with a divine scorn of narrow dogma and paltry aims. But it is a mere pamphlet, extemporised in, at most, a month or two, without research or special knowledge, with no attempt to ascertain general principles, and more than Milton’s usual disregard of method. A jurist’s question, is here handled by a rhetorician. He has preached a noble and heart-stirring sermon on his text, but the problem for the legislator remains where it was. The vagueness and confusion of the thoughts finds a vehicle in language which is too often overcrowded and obscure. I think the _Areopagitica_ has few or no offences against taste; on the other hand, it has few or none of those grand passages which redeem the scurrility of his political pamphlets. The passage in which Milton’s visit to Galileo “grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition,” is mentioned, is often quoted for its biographical interest; and the terse dictum, “as good almost kill a man as kill a good book,” has passed into a current axiom. A paragraph at the close, where he hints that the time may be come to suppress the suppressors, intimates, but so obscurely as to be likely to escape notice, that Milton had already made up his mind that a struggle with the Presbyterian party was to be the sequel of the overthrow of the Royalists. He has not yet arrived at the point he will hereafter reach, of rejecting the very idea of a minister of religion, but he is already aggrieved by the implicit faith which the Puritan laity, who had cast out bishops, were beginning to bestow upon their pastor; “a factor to whose care and credit he may commit the whole managing of his religious affairs.” Finally, it must be noted, that Milton, though he had come to see round Presbyterianism, had not, in 1644, shaken off all dogmatic profession. His toleration of opinion was far from complete. He would call in the intervention of the executioner in the case of “mischievous and libellous books,” and could not bring himself to contemplate the toleration of Popery and open superstition, “which as it extirpates all religious and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate; provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and gain the weak and misled.”

The _Areopagitica_, as might be expected, produced no effect upon the legislation of the Long Parliament, of whom (says Hallam) “very few acts of political wisdom or courage are recorded.” Individual licensers became more lax in the performance of the duty, but this is reasonably to be ascribed to the growing spirit of independency–a spirit which was incompatible with any embargo on the utterance of private opinion. A curious epilogue to the history of this publication is the fact, first brought to light by Mr. Masson, that the author of the _Areopagitica_, at a later time, acted himself in the capacity of licenser. It was in 1651, under the Commonwealth, Marchmont Needham being editor of the weekly paper called _Mercurius Politicus_, that Milton was associated with him as his censor or supervising editor. Mr. Masson conjectures, with some probability, that the leading articles of the _Mercurius_, during part of the year 1651, received touches from Milton’s hand. But this was, after all, rather in the character of editor, whose business it is to see that nothing improper goes into the paper, than in that of press licenser in the sense in which the _Areopagitica_ had denounced it.


BIOGRAPHICAL. 1640–1649.

In September, 1645, Milton left the garden-house in Aldersgate, for a larger house in Barbican, in the same neighbourhood, but a little further from the city gate, i.e. more in the country. The larger house was, perhaps, required for the accommodation of his pupils (see above, p. 44), but it served to shelter his wife’s family, when they were thrown upon the world by the surrender of Oxford in June, 1646. In this Barbican house Mr. Powell died at the end of that year. Milton had been promised with his wife a portion of 1000 l.; but Mr. Powell’s affairs had long been in a very embarrassed condition, and now by the consequences of delinquency that condition had become one of absolute ruin. Great pains have been bestowed by Mr. Masson in unravelling the entanglement of the Powell accounts. The data which remain are ample, and we cannot but feel astonished at the accuracy with which our national records, in more important matters so defective, enable us to set out a debtor and creditor balance of the estate of a private citizen, who died more than 200 years ago. But the circumstances are peculiarly intricate, and we are still unable to reconcile Mr, Powell’s will with the composition records, both of which are extant. As a compounding delinquent, his fine, assessed at the customary rate of two years’ income, was fixed by the commissioners at 180 l. The commissioners must have, therefore, been satisfied that his income did not exceed 90 l. a year. Yet by his will of date December 30, 1646, he leaves his estate of Forest Hill, the annual value of which alone far exceeded 90 l., to his eldest son. This property is not mentioned in the inventory of his estate, real and personal, laid before the commissioners, sworn to by the delinquent, and by them accepted. The possible explanation is that the Forest Hill property had really passed into the possession, by foreclosure, of the mortgagee, Sir Robert Pye, who sate for Woodstock in the Long Parliament, but that Mr. Powell, making his will on his deathbed, pleased himself with the fancy of leaving his son and heir an estate which was no longer his to dispose of. Putting Forest Hill out of the account, it would appear that the sequestrators had dealt somewhat harshly with Mr. Powell; for they had included in their estimate one doubtful asset of 500 l., and one non-existent of 400 l. This last item was a stock of timber stated to be at Forest Hill, but which had really been appropriated without payment by the Parliamentarians, and part of it voted by Parliament itself towards repair of the church in the staunch Puritan town of Banbury.

The upshot of the whole transaction is that, in satisfaction of his claim of 1500 l. (1000 l. his wife’s dower, 500 l. an old loan of 1627), Milton came into possession of some property at Wheatley. This property, consisting of the tithes of Wheatley, certain cottages, and three and a half yard lands, had in the time of the disturbances produced only 40 l. a year. But as the value of all property improved when, the civil war came to an end, Milton found the whole could now be let for 80 l. But then out of this he had to pay Mr. Powell’s composition, reduced to 130 l. on Milton’s petition, and the widow’s jointure, computed at 26 l. 13 s. 4 d. per annum. What of income remained after these disbursements he might apply towards repaying himself the old loan of 1627. This was all Milton ever saw of the 1000 l. which Mr. Powell, with the high-flying magnificence of a cavalier who knew he was ruined, had promised as his daughter’s portion.

Mr. Powell’s death was followed in less than three months by that of John Milton, senior. He died in the house in Barbican, and the entry, “John Milton, gentleman, 15 (March),” among the burials in 1646, is still to be seen in the register of the parish of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate. A host of eminent men have traced the first impulse of their genius to their mother. Milton always acknowledged with just gratitude that it was to his father’s discerning taste and fostering care, that he owed the encouragement of his studies, and the leisure which rendered them possible. He has registered this gratitude in both prose and verse. The Latin hexameters, “Ad patrem,” written at Horton, are inspired by a feeling far beyond commonplace filial piety, and a warmth which is rare indeed in neo-Latin versification. And when, in his prose pamphlets, he has occasion to speak of himself, he does not omit the acknowledgment of “the ceaseless diligence and care of my father, whom God recompense.” (_Reason of Church Government_.)

After the death of his father, being now more at ease in his circumstances, he gave up taking pupils, and quitted the large house in Barbican for a smaller in High Holborn, opening backwards into Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields. This removal was about Michaelmas, 1647.

During this period, 1639–1649, while his interests were engaged by the all-absorbing events of the civil strife, he wrote no poetry, or none deserving the name. All artists have intervals of non-productiveness, usually caused by exhaustion. This was not Milton’s case. His genius was not his master, nor could it pass, like that of Leonardo da Vinci, unmoved through the most tragic scenes. He deliberately suspended it at the call of what he believed to be duty to his country. His unrivalled power of expression was placed at the service of a passionate political conviction. This prostitution of faculty avenged itself; for when he did turn to poetry, his strength was gone from him. The period is chiefly marked, by sonnets, not many, one in a year, or thereabouts. That _On the religious memory of Mrs. Catherine Thomson_, in 1646, is the lowest point touched by Milton in poetry, for his metrical psalms do not deserve the name.

The sonnet, or Elegy on Mrs. Catherine Thomson in the form of a sonnet, though in poetical merit not distinguishable from the average religious verse of the Caroline age, has an interest for the biographer. It breathes a holy calm that is in sharp contrast with the angry virulence of the pamphlets, which were being written at this very time by the same pen. Amid his intemperate denunciations of his political and ecclesiastical foes, it seems that Milton did not inwardly forfeit the peace which passeth all understanding. He had formerly said himself (_Doctrine and Disc._), “nothing more than disturbance of mind suspends us from approaching to God.” Now, out of all the clamour and the bitterness of the battle of the sects, he can retire and be alone with his heavenly aspirations, which have lost none of their ardour by having laid aside all their sectarianism. His genius has forsaken him, but his soul still glows with the fervour of devotion. And even of this sonnet we may say what Ellis says of Catullus, that Milton never ceases to be a poet, even when his words are most prosaic.

The sonnet (xv.) _On the Lord-General Fairfax, at the siege of Colchester_, written in 1648, is again a manifesto of the writer’s political feelings, nobly uttered, and investing party with a patriotic dignity not unworthy of the man, Milton. It is a hortatory lyric, a trumpet-call to his party in the moment of victory to remember the duties which that victory imposed upon them. It is not without the splendid resonance of the Italian canzone. But it can scarcely be called poetry, expressing, as it does, facts directly, and not indirectly through their imaginative equivalents. Fairfax was, doubtless, well worthy that Milton should have commemorated him in a higher strain. Of Fairfax’s eminent qualities the sonnet only dwells on two, his personal valour, which had been tried in many fights–he had been three times dangerously wounded in the Yorkshire campaign–and his superiority to sordid interests. Of his generalship, in which he was second to Cromwell only, and of his love of arts and learning, nothing is said, though the last was the passion of his life, for which at forty he renounced ambition. Perhaps in 1648 Milton, who lived a very retired life, did not know of these tastes, and had not heard that it was by Fairfax’s care that the Bodleian library was saved from wreck on the surrender of Oxford in 1646. And it was not till later, years after the sonnet was written, that the same Fairfax, “whose name in arms through Europe rings,” became a competitor of Milton in the attempt to paraphrase the Psalms in metre.

Milton’s paraphrase of the Psalms belongs to history, but to the history of psalmody, not that of poetry. At St. Paul’s School, at fifteen, the boy had turned two psalms, the 114th and the 136th, by way of exercise. That in his day of plenary inspiration, Milton, who disdained Dryden as “a rhymist but no poet,” and has recorded his own impatience with the “drawling versifiers,” should have undertaken to grind down the noble antistrophic lyrics of the Hebrew bard into ballad rhymes for the use of Puritan worship, would have been impossible. But the idea of being useful to his country had acquired exclusive possession of his mind. Even his faculty of verse should be employed in the good cause. If Parliament had set him the task, doubtless he would have willingly undertaken it, as Corneille, in the blindness of Catholic obedience, versified the _Imitatio Christi_ at the command of the Jesuits. Milton was not officially employed, but voluntarily took up the work. The Puritans were bent upon substituting a new version of the Davidic Psalms for that of Sternhold and Hopkins, for no other reason than that the latter formed part of the hated Book of Common Prayer. The Commons had pronounced in favour of a version by one of their own members, the staunch Puritan M.P. for Truro, Francis Rouse. The Lords favoured a rival book, and numerous other claimants were before the public. Dissatisfied with any of these attempts, Milton would essay himself. In 1648 he turned nine psalms, and recurring to the task in 1653, “did into verse” eight more. He thought these specimens worth preserving, and annexing to the volume of his poems which he published himself in 1673. As this doggerel continues to encumber each succeeding edition of the _Poetical Works_, it is as well that Milton did not persevere with his experiment and produce a complete Psalter. He prudently abandoned a task in which success is impossible. A metrical psalm, being a compromise between the psalm and the hymn, like other compromises, misses, rather than combines, the distinctive excellences of the things united. That Milton should ever have attempted what poetry forbids, is only another proof how entirely at this period more absorbing motives had possession of his mind, and overbore his poetical judgment. It is a coincidence worth remembering that Milton’s contemporary, Lord Clarendon, was at this very time solacing his exile at Madrid by composing, not a version but a commentary upon the Psalms, “applying those devotions to the troubles of this time.”

Yet all the while that he was thus unfaithful in practice to his art, it was poetry that possessed his real affections, and the reputation of a poet which formed his ambition. It was a temporary separation, and not a divorce, which he designed. In each successive pamphlet he reiterates his undertaking to redeem his pledge of a great work, as soon as liberty shall be consolidated in the realm. Meanwhile, as an earnest of what should be hereafter, he permitted the publication of a collection of his early poems.

This little volume of some 200 pages, rude in execution as it is, ranks among the highest prizes of the book collector, very few copies being extant, and those mostly in public libraries. It appeared in 1645, and owed its appearance, not to the vanity of the author, but to the zeal of a publisher. Humphrey Moseley, at the sign, of the Prince’s Arms, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, suggested the collection to Milton, and undertook the risk of it, though knowing, as he says in the prefixed address of The Stationer to the Reader, that “the slightest pamphlet is nowadays more vendible than the works of learnedest men.” It may create some surprise that, in 1645, there should have been any public in England for a volume of verse. Naseby had been fought in June, Philiphaugh in September, Fairfax and Cromwell were continuing their victorious career in the west, Chester, Worcester, and the stronghold of Oxford, alone holding out for the King. It was clear that the conflict was decided in favour of the Parliament, but men’s minds must have been strung to a pitch of intense expectation as to what kind of settlement was to come. Yet, at the very crisis of the civil strife, we find a London publisher able to bring out the Poems of Waller (1644), and sufficiently encouraged by their reception to follow them up, in the next year, with the Poems of Mr. John Milton. Are we warranted in inferring that a finer public was beginning to loathe the dreary theological polemic of which it had had a surfeit, and turned to a book of poetry as that which was most unlike the daily garbage, just as a later public absorbed five thousand copies of Scott’s _Lay of the Last Minstrel_ in the year of Austerlitz? One would like to know who were the purchasers of Milton and Waller, when the cavalier families were being ruined by confiscations and compositions, and Puritan families would turn with pious horror from the very name of a Mask.

Milton was himself editor of his own volume, and prefixed to it, again out of Virgil’s Eclogues, the characteristic motto, “Baccare frontem Cingite, ne vati noceat mala lingua _futuro_,” indicating that his poetry was all to come.



The Crown having fallen on January 30, 1649, and the House of Lords by the vote of February 6 following, the sovereign power in England was for the moment in the hands of that fragment of the Long Parliament, which remained after the various purges and expulsions to which it had been subjected. Some of the excluded members were allowed to return, and by occasional new elections in safe boroughs the number of members was raised to one hundred and fifty, securing an average attendance of about seventy. The future government of the nation was declared to be by way of a republic, and the writs ran in the name of the Keepers of the Liberty of England, by authority of Parliament. But the real centre of power was the Council of State, a body of forty-one members, nominated for a period of twelve months, according to a plan of constitution devised by the army leaders. In the hands of this republican Council was concentrated a combination of power such as had never been wielded by any English monarch. But, though its attribution of authority was great, its exercise of the powers lodged with it was hampered by differences among its members, and the disaffection of various interests and parties. The Council of State contained most of the notable statesmen of the Parliamentary party, and had before it a vast task in reorganizing the administration of England, in the conduct of an actual war in Ireland, a possible war in Scotland, and in the maintenance of the honour of the republic in its relations with foreign princes.

The Council of State prepared the business for its consideration through special committees for special departments of the public service. The Committee for Foreign Affairs consisted of Whitelocke, Vane, Lord Lisle, Lord Denbigh, Mr. Marten, Mr. Lisle. A secretary was required to translate despatches, both those which were sent out, and those which were received. Nothing seems more natural than that the author of the _Tenure of Kings and Magistrates_, who was at once a staunch Parliamentarian, an accomplished Latin scholar, and conversant with more than one of the spoken languages of the Continent, should be thought of for the office. Yet so little was Milton personally known, living as he did the life of a retired student, that it was the accident of his having the acquaintance of one of the new Council to which he owed the appointment.

The post was offered him, but would he accept it? He had never ceased to revolve in his mind subjects capable of poetical treatment, and to cherish his own vocation as the classical poet of the English language. Peace had come, and leisure was within his reach. He was poor, but his wants were simple, and he had enough wherewith to meet them. Already, in 1649, unmistakable symptoms threatened his sight, and warned him of the necessity of the most rigid economy in the use of the eyes. The duties that he was now asked to undertake were indefinite already in amount, and would doubtless extend themselves if zealously discharged.

But the temptation was strong, and he did not resist it. The increase of income was, doubtless, to Milton the smallest among the inducements now offered him. He had thought it a sufficient and an honourable employment to serve his country with his pen as a volunteer. Here was an offer to become her official, authorised servant, and to bear a part, though a humble part, in the great work of reorganisation which was now to be attempted. Above all other allurements to a retired student, unversed in men, and ready to idealise character, was the opportunity of becoming at once personally acquainted with all the great men of the patriotic party, whom his ardent imagination had invested with heroic qualities. The very names of Fairfax, Vane, and Cromwell, called up in him emotions for which prose was an inadequate vehicle. Nor was it only that in the Council itself he would be in daily intercourse with such men as Henry Marten, Hutchinson, Whitelocke, Harrington, St. John, Ludlow, but his position would introduce him at once to all the members of the House who were worth knowing. It was not merely a new world; it was _the_ world which was here opened for the first time to Milton. And we must remember that, all scholar as he was, Milton was well convinced of the truth that there are other sources of knowledge besides books. He had himself spent “many studious and contemplative years in the search of religious and civil knowledge,” yet he knew that, for a mind large enough to “take in a general survey of humane things,” it was necessary to know–

The world,… her glory,
Empires and monarchs, and their radiant courts, Best school of best experience.

_P.R._ iii. 237.

He had repeatedly, as if excusing his political interludes, renewed his pledge to devote all his powers to poetry as soon, as they should be fully ripe. To complete his education as a poet, he wanted initiation into affairs. Here was an opening far beyond any he had ever dreamed of. The sacrifice of time and precious eyesight which he was to make was costly, but it was not pure waste; it would be partly returned to him in a ripened experience in this

In all things to greatest actions lead,

He accepted the post at once without hesitation. On March 13, 1649, the Committee for Foreign Affairs was directed to make the offer to him; on March 15, he attended at Whitehall to be admitted to office. Well would it have been both for his genius and his fame if he had declined it. His genius might have reverted to its proper course, while he was in the flower of age, with eyesight still available, and a spirit exalted by the triumph of the good cause. His fame would have been saved from the degrading incidents of the contention with Salmasius and Morus, and from being tarnished by the obloquy of the faction which he fought, and which conquered him. No man can with impunity insult and trample upon his fellow-man, even in the best of causes. Especially if he be an artist, he makes it impossible to obtain equitable appreciation of his work.

So far as Milton reckoned upon a gain in experience from his secretaryship, he doubtless reaped it. Such a probation could not be passed without solidifying the judgment, and correcting its tendency to error. And this school of affairs, which is indispensable for the historian, may also be available for the poet. Yet it would be difficult to point in Milton’s subsequent poetry to any element which the poet can be thought to have imbibed from the foreign secretary. Where, as in Milton’s two epics, and _Samson Agonistes_, the personages are all supernatural or heroic, there is no room for the employment of knowledge of the world. Had Milton written comedy, like Moliere, he might have said with Moliere after he had been introduced at court, “Je n’ai plus que faire d’etudier Plaute et Terence; je n’ai qu’a etudier le monde.”

The office into which Milton was now inducted is called in the Council books that of “Secretary for foreign tongues.” Its duties were chiefly the translation of despatches from, and to, foreign governments. The degree of estimation in which the Latin secretary was held, may be measured by the amount of salary assigned him. For while the English chief Secretary had a salary of 730 l. (= 2200 l. of our day), the Latin Secretary was paid only 288 l. 13s. 6d. (= 900 l.). For this, not very liberal pay, he was told that all his time was to be at the disposal of the government. Lincoln’s Inn Fields was too far off for a servant of the Council who might have to attend meetings at seven in the morning. He accordingly migrated to Charing Cross, now become again Charing without the cross, this work of art having been an early (1647) victim of religious barbarism. In November he was accommodated with chambers in Whitehall. But from these he was soon ousted by claimants more considerable or more importunate, and in 1651 he removed to “a pretty garden-house” in Petty France, in Westminster, next door to the Lord Scudamore’s, and opening into St. James’s Park. The house was extant till 1877, when it disappeared, the last of Milton’s many London residences. It had long ceased to look into St. James’s Park, more than one row of houses, encroachments upon the public park, having grown up between. The garden-house had become a mere ordinary street house in York-street, only distinguished from the squalid houses on either side of it by a tablet affixed by Bentham, inscribed “sacred to Milton, prince of poets.” Petty France lost its designation in the French Revolution, in obedience to the childish petulance which obliterates the name of any one who may displease you at the moment, and became one of the seventeen York-streets of the metropolis. Soon after the re-baptism of the street, Milton’s house was occupied by William Hazlitt, who rented it of Bentham. Milton had lived in it for nine years, from 1651 till a few weeks before the Restoration. Its nearness to Whitehall where the Council sat, was less a convenience than a necessity.

For Milton’s life now became one of close attention, and busy service. As Latin secretary, and Weckherlin’s successor, indeed, his proper duties were only those of a clerk or translator. But his aptitude for business of a literary kind soon drew on him a great variety of employment. The demand for a Latin translation of a despatch was not one of frequent occurrence. The Letters of the Parliament, and of Oliver and Richard, Protectors, which are, intrusively, printed among Milton’s works, are but one hundred and thirty-seven in all. This number is spread over ten years, being at the rate of about fourteen per year; most of them are very short. For the purposes of a biography of Milton, it is sufficient to observe, that the dignified attitude which the Commonwealth took up towards foreign powers lost none of its elevation in being conveyed in Miltonic Latin. Whether satisfaction for the murder of an envoy is to be extorted from the arrogant court of Madrid, or an apology is to be offered to a humble count of Oldenburg for delay in issuing a salva-guardia which had been promised, the same equable dignity of expression is maintained, equally remote from crouching before the strong, and hectoring the weak.

His translations were not all the duties of the new secretary. He must often serve as interpreter at audiences of foreign envoys. He must superintend the semi-official organ, the _Mercurius Politicus_. He must answer the manifesto of the Presbyterians of Ireland. The _Observations_ on the peace of Kilkenny are Milton’s composition, but from instructions. By the peace the Irish had obtained home rule in its widest extent, release from the oath of supremacy, and the right to tie their ploughs to the tail of the horse. The same peace also conceded to them the militia, a trust which Charles I. had said he would not devolve on the Parliament of England, “not for an hour!” Milton is indignant that these indulgences, which had been refused to their obedience, should have been extorted by their rebellion, and the massacre of “200,000 Protestants”. This is an exaggeration of a butchery sufficiently tragic in its real proportions, and in a later tract (_Eikonoklastes_) he reduces it to 154,000. Though the savage Irish are barbarians, uncivilised and uncivilisable, the _Observations_ distinctly affirm the new principle of toleration. Though popery be a superstition, the death of all true religion, still conscience is not within the cognisance of the magistrate. The civil sword is to be employed against civil offences only. In adding that the one exception to this toleration is atheism, Milton is careful to state this limitation as being the toleration professed by Parliament, and not as his private opinion.

So well satisfied were the Council with their secretary’s _Observations_ on the peace of Kilkenny, that they next imposed upon him a far more important labour, a reply to the _Eikon Basilike_. The execution of Charles I. was not an act of vengeance, but a measure of public safety. If, as Hallam affirms, there mingled in the motives of the managers any strain of personal ill-will, this was merged in the necessity of securing, themselves from the vengeance of the King, and what they had gained from being taken back. They were alarmed by the reaction which had set in, and had no choice but to strengthen themselves by a daring policy. But the first effect of the removal of the King by violence was to give a powerful stimulus to the reaction already in progress. The groan, which burst from the spectators before Whitehall on January 30, 1649, was only representative of the thrill of horror which ran through England and Scotland in the next ten days. This feeling found expression in a book entitled “_Eikon Basilike_, the portraiture of his sacred majesty in his solitude and sufferings.” The book was, it should seem, composed by Dr. Gauden, but professed to be an authentic copy of papers written by the King. It is possible that Gauden may have had in his hands some written scraps of the King’s meditations. If he had such, he only used them as hints to work upon. Gauden was a churchman whom his friends might call liberal, and his enemies time-serving. He was a churchman of the stamp of Archbishop Williams, and preferred bishops and the Common-prayer to presbyters and extempore sermons, but did not think the difference between the two of the essence of religion. In better times Gauden would have passed for broad, though his latitudinarianism was more the result of love of ease than of philosophy. Though a royalist he sat in the Westminster Assembly, and took the covenant, for which compliance he nearly lost the reward which, after the Restoration, became his due. Like the university-bred men of his day, Gauden was not a man of ideas, but of style. In the present instance the idea was supplied by events. The saint and martyr, the man of sorrows, praying for his murderers, the King, who renounced an earthly kingdom to gain a heavenly, and who in return for his benefits received from an unthankful people a crown of thorns–this was the theme supplied to the royalist advocate. Poet’s imagination had never invented one more calculated to touch the popular heart. This _imitatio Christi_ to which every private Christian theoretically aspires, had been realised by a true prince upon an actual scaffold with a graceful dignity of demeanour, of which it may be said, that nothing in life became him like the leaving it.

This moving situation Gauden, no mean stylist, set out in the best academical language of the period. Frigid and artificial it may read now, but the passion and pity, which is not in the book, was supplied by the readers of the time. And men are not dainty as to phrase when they meet with an expression of their own sentiments. The readers of _Eikon Basilike_–and forty-seven editions were necessary to supply the demand of a population of eight millions–attributed to the pages of the book emotions raised in themselves by the tragic catastrophe. They never doubted that the meditations were those of the royal martyr, and held the book, in the words of Sir Edward Nicholas, for “the most exquisite, pious, and princely piece ever written.” The Parliament thought themselves called upon to put forth a reply. If one book could cause such a commotion of spirits, another book could allay it–the ordinary illusion of those who do not consider that the vogue of a printed appeal depends, not on the contents of the appeal, but on a predisposition of the public temper.

Selden, the most learned man, not only of his party, but of Englishmen, was first thought of, but the task was finally assigned to the Latin Secretary. Milton’s ready pen completed the answer, _Eikonoklastes_, a quarto of 242 pages, before October, 1649. It is, like all answers, worthless as a book. Eikonoklastes, the Image-breaker, takes the Image, Eikon, paragraph by paragraph, turning it round, and asserting the negative. To the Royalist view of the points in dispute Milton opposes the Independent view. A refutation, which follows each step of an adverse book, is necessarily devoid of originality. But Milton is worse than tedious; his reply is in a tone of rude railing and insolent swagger, which would have been always unbecoming, but which at this moment was grossly indecent.

Milton must, however, be acquitted of one charge which has been made against him, viz., that he taunts the king with his familiarity with Shakespeare. The charge rests on a misunderstanding. In quoting Richard III. in illustration of his own meaning, Milton, says, “I shall not instance an abstruse author, wherein the King might be less conversant, but one whom we well know was the closet companion of these his solitudes, William Shakespeare.” Though not an overt gibe, there certainly lurks an insinuation to Milton’s Puritan readers, to whom stage plays were an abomination–an unworthy device of rhetoric, as appealing to a superstition in others which the writer himself does not share. In Milton’s contemptuous reference to Sidney’s _Arcadia_ as a vain amatorious poem, we feel that the finer sense of the author of _L’Allegro_ has suffered from immersion in the slough of religious and political faction.

Gauden, raking up material from all quarters, had inserted in his compilation a prayer taken from the _Arcadia_. Milton mercilessly works this topic against his adversary. It is surprising that this plagiarism from so well-known a book as the _Arcadia_ should not have opened Milton’s eyes to the unauthentic character of the _Eikon_. He alludes, indeed, to a suspicion which was abroad that one of the royal chaplains was a secret coadjutor. But he knew nothing of Gauden at the time of writing the _Eikonoklastes_, and probably he never came to know anything. The secret of the authorship of the _Eikon_ was well kept, being known only to a very few persons–the two royal brothers, Bishop Morley, the Earl of Bristol, and Clarendon. These were all safe men, and Gauden was not likely to proclaim himself an impostor. He pleaded his authorship, however, as a claim to preferment at the Restoration, when the church spoils came to be partitioned among the conquerors, and he received the bishopric of Exeter. A bishopric–because less than the highest preferment could not be offered to one whose pen had done such signal service; and Exeter–because the poorest see (then valued at 500 l. a year) was good enough for a man who had taken the covenant and complied with the usurping government. By ceaseless importunity the author of the _Eikon Basilike_ obtained afterwards the see of Worcester, while the portion of the author of _Eikonoklastes_ was poverty, infamy, and calumny. A century after Milton’s death it was safe for the most popular writer of the day to say that the prayer from the _Arcadia_ had been interpolated in the _Eikon_ by Milton himself, and then by him charged upon the King as a plagiarism (Johnson, _Lives of the Poets_.)



The mystery which long surrounded the authorship of _Eikon Basilike_ lends a literary interest to Milton’s share in that controversy, which does not belong to his next appearance in print. Besides, his pamphlets against Salmasius and Morus are written in Latin, and to the general reader in this country and in America inaccessible in consequence. In Milton’s day it was otherwise; the widest circle of readers could only be reached through Latin. For this reason, when Charles II. wanted a public vindication of his father’s memory, it was indispensable that it should be composed in that language. The _Eikon_ was accordingly turned into Latin, by one of the royal chaplains, Earle, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury. But this was not enough; a defence in form was necessary, an _Apologia Socratis_, such as Plato composed for his master after his death. It must not only be written in Latin, but in such Latin as to ensure its being read.

In 1649 Charles II. was living at the Hague, and it so happened that the man, who was in the highest repute in all Europe as a Latinist, was professor at the neighbouring university of Leyden. Salmasius (Claude de Saumaise) was commissioned to prepare a manifesto, which should be at once a vindication of Charles’s memory, and an indictment against the regicide government. Salmasius was a man of enormous reading and no judgment. He says of himself that he wrote Latin more easily than his mother-tongue (French). And his Latin was all the more readable because it was not classical or idiomatic. With all his reading–and Isaac Casaubon had said of him when in his teens that he had incredible erudition–he was still, at sixty, quite unacquainted with public affairs, and had neither the politician’s tact necessary to draw a state paper as Clarendon would have drawn it, nor the literary tact which had enabled Erasmus to command the ear of the public. Salmasius undertook his task as a professional advocate, though without pay, and Milton accepted the duty of replying as advocate for the Parliament, also without reward; he was fighting for a cause which was not another’s but his own.

Salmasius’ _Defensio regia_–that was the title of his book–reached this country before the end of 1649. The Council of State, in very unnecessary alarm, issued a prohibition. On 8th January, 1650, the Council ordered “that Mr. Milton do prepare something in answer to the book of Salmasius.” Early in March, 1651, Milton’s answer, entitled _Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio_, was out.

Milton was as much above Salmasius in mental power as he was inferior to him in extent of book knowledge. But the conditions of retort which he had chosen to accept neutralised this superiority. His greater power was spent in a greater force of invective. Instead of setting out the case of the Parliament in all the strength of which it was capable, Milton is intent upon tripping up Salmasius, contradicting him, and making him odious or ridiculous. He called his book a _Defence of the People of England_; but when he should have been justifying his clients from the charges of rebellion and regicide before the bar of Europe, Milton is bending all his invention upon personalities. He exaggerates the foibles of Salmasius, his vanity, and the vanity of Madame de Saumaise, her ascendancy over her husband, his narrow pedantry, his ignorance of everything but grammar and words. He exhausts the Latin vocabulary of abuse to pile up every epithet of contumely and execration on the head of his adversary. It but amounts to calling Salmasius fool and knave through a couple of hundred pages, till the exaggeration of the style defeats the orator’s purpose, and we end by regarding the whole, not as a serious pleading, but as an epideictic display. Hobbes said truly that the two books were “like two declamations, for and against, made by one and the same man as a rhetorical exercise” (_Behemoth_).

Milton’s _Defensio_ was not calculated to advance the cause of the Parliament, and there is no evidence that it produced any effect upon the public, beyond that of raising Milton’s personal credit. That England, and Puritan England, where humane studies were swamped in a biblical brawl, should produce a man who could write Latin as well as Salmasius, was a great surprise to the learned world in Holland. Salmasius was unpopular at Leyden, and there was therefore a predisposition to regard Milton’s book with favour. Salmasius was twenty years older than Milton, and in these literary digladiations readers are always ready to side with a new writer. The contending interests of the two great English parties, the wider issue between republic and absolutism, the speculative inquiry into the right of resistance, were lost sight of by the spectators of this literary duel. The only question was whether Salmasius could beat the new champion, or the new man beat Salmasius, at a match of vituperation.

Salmasius of course put in a rejoinder. His rapid pen found no difficulty in turning off 300 pages of fluent Latin. It was his last occupation. He died at Spa, where he was taking the waters, in September, 1653, and his reply was not published till 1660, after the Restoration, when all interest had died out of the controversy. If it be true that the work was written at Spa, without books at hand, it is certainly a miraculous effort of memory. It does no credit to Salmasius. He had raked together, after the example of Scioppius against Scaliger, all the tittle-tattle which the English exiles had to retail about Milton and his antecedents. Bramhall, who bore Milton a special grudge, was the channel of some of this scandal, and Bramhall’s source was possibly Chappell, the tutor with whom Milton had had the early misunderstanding. (See above p. 6). If any one thinks that classical studies of themselves cultivate the taste and the sentiments, let him look into Salmasius’s _Responsio_. There he will see the first scholar of his age not thinking it unbecoming to taunt Milton with his blindness, in such language as this: “a puppy, once my pretty little man, now blear-eyed, or rather a blindling; having never had any mental vision, he has now lost his bodily sight; a silly coxcomb, fancying himself a beauty; an unclean beast, with nothing more human about him than his guttering eyelids; the fittest doom for him would be to hang him on the highest gallows, and set his head on the Tower of London.” These are some of the incivilities, not by any means the most revolting, but such as I dare reproduce, of this literary warfare.

Salmasius’s taunt about Milton’s venal pen is no less false than his other gibes. The places of those who served the Commonwealth, were places of “hard work and short rations.” Milton never received for his _Defensio_ a sixpence beyond his official salary. It has indeed been asserted that he was paid 1000 l.. for it by order of Parliament, and this falsehood having been adopted by Johnson–himself a pensioner–has passed into all the biographies, and will no doubt continue to be repeated to the end of time. This is a just nemesis upon Milton, who on his part had twitted Salmasius with having been complimented by the exiled King with a purse of 100 Jacobuses for his performance. The one insinuation was as false as the other. Charles II. was too poor to offer more than thanks. Milton was too proud to receive for defending his country what the Parliament was willing to pay. Sir Peter Wentworth, of Lillingston Lovell, in Oxfordshire, left in his will 100 l. to Milton for his book against Salmasius. But this was long after the Restoration, and Milton did not live to receive the legacy.

Instead of receiving an honorarium for his _Defence of the English People_, Milton had paid for it a sacrifice for which money could not compensate him. His eyesight, though quick, as he was a proficient with the rapier, had never been strong. His constant headaches, his late study, and (thinks Phillips) his perpetual tampering with physic to preserve his sight, concurred to bring the calamity upon him. It had been steadily coming on for a dozen years before, and about 1650 the sight of the left eye was gone. He was warned by his doctor that if he persisted in using the remaining eye for book-work, he would lose that too. “The choice lay before me,” Milton writes in the _Second Defence_, “between dereliction of a supreme duty and loss of eyesight; in such a case I could not listen to the physician, not if Aesculapius himself had spoken from his sanctuary; I could not but obey that inward monitor, I know not what, that spake to me from heaven. I considered with myself that many had purchased less good with worse ill, as they who give their lives to reap only glory, and I thereupon concluded to employ the little remaining eyesight I was to enjoy in doing this, the greatest service to the common weal it was in my power to render.”

It was about the early part of the year 1652 that the calamity was consummated. At the age of forty-three he was in total darkness. The deprivation of sight, one of the severest afflictions of which humanity is capable, falls more heavily on the man whose occupation lies among books, than upon others. He who has most to lose, loses most. To most persons books are but an amusement, an interlude between the hours of serious occupation. The scholar is he who has found the key to knowledge, and knows his way about in the world of printed books. To find this key, to learn the map of this country, requires a long apprenticeship. This is a point few men can hope to reach much before the age of forty. Milton had attained it only to find fruition snatched from him. He had barely time to spell one line in the book of wisdom, before, like the wizard’s volume in romance, it was hopelessly closed against him for ever. Any human being is shut out by loss of sight from accustomed pleasures, the scholar is shut out from knowledge. Shut out at forty-three, when his great work was not even begun! He consoles himself with the fancy that in his pamphlet, the _Defensio_, he had done a great work (_quanta maxima quivi_) for his country. This poor delusion helped him doubtless to support his calamity. He could not foresee that, in less than ten years, the great work would he totally annihilated, his pamphlet would he merged in the obsolete mass of civil war tracts, and the _Defensio_, on which he had expended his last year of eyesight, only mentioned because it had been written by the author of _Paradise Lost_.

The nature of Milton’s disease is not ascertainable from the account he has given of it. In the well-known passage of _Paradise Lost_, iii. 25, he hesitates between amaurosis (drop serene) and cataract (suffusion)

So thick a drop serene hath quench’d their orbs, Or dim suffusion veil’d.

A medical friend referred to by Professor Alfred Stern, tells him that some of the symptoms are more like glaucoma. Milton himself has left such an account as a patient ignorant of the anatomy of the organ could give. It throws no light on the nature of the malady. But it is characteristic of Milton that even his affliction does not destroy his solicitude about his personal appearance. The taunts of his enemies about “the lack-lustre eye, guttering with prevalent rheum” did not pass unfelt. In his _Second Defence_ Milton informs the world that his eyes “are externally uninjured. They shine with an unclouded light, just like the eyes of one whose vision is perfect. This is the only point in which I am, against my will, a hypocrite.” The vindication appears again in Sonnet xix. “These eyes, though clear To outward view of blemish or of spot.” In later years, when the exordium of Book iii. of _Paradise Lost_ was composed, in the pathetic story of his blindness, this little touch of vanity has disappeared, as incompatible with the solemn dignity of the occasion.



Civil history is largely a history of wars between states, and literary history is no less the record of quarrels in print between jealous authors. Poets and artists, more susceptible than practical men, seem to live a life of perpetual wrangle. The history of these petty feuds is not healthy intellectual food, it is at best amusing scandal. But these quarrels of authors do not degrade the authors in our eyes, they only show them to be, what we knew, as vain, irritable, and opinionative as other men. Ben Jonson, Dryden, Pope, Voltaire, Rousseau, belabour their enemies, and we see nothing incongruous in their doing so. It is not so when the awful majesty of Milton descends from the empyrean throne of contemplation to use the language of the gutter or the fish-market. The bathos is unthinkable. The universal intellect of Bacon shrank to the paltry pursuit of place. The disproportion between the intellectual capaciousness and the moral aim jars upon the sense of fitness, and the name of Bacon, “wisest, meanest,” has passed into a proverb. Milton’s fall is far worse. It is not here a union of grasp of mind with an ignoble ambition, but the plunge of the moral nature itself from the highest heights to that despicable region of vulgar scurrility and libel, which is below the level of average gentility and education. The name of Milton is a synonym for sublimity. He has endowed our language with the loftiest and noblest poetry it possesses, and the same man is found employing speech for the most unworthy purpose to which it can be put, that of defaming and vilifying a personal enemy, and an enemy so mean that barely to have been mentioned by Milton had been an honour to him. In Salmasius, Milton had at least been measuring his Latin against the Latin of the first classicist of the age. In Alexander Morus he wreaked august periods of Roman eloquence upon a vagabond preacher, of chance fortunes and tarnished reputation, a _graeculus esuriens_, who appeared against Milton by the turn of accidents, and not as the representative of the opposite principle. In crushing Morus, Milton could not beguile himself with the idea that he was serving a cause.

In 1652 our country began to reap the fruits of the costly efforts it had made to obtain good government. A central authority was at last established, stronger than any which had existed since Elisabeth, and one which extended over Scotland and Ireland, no less than over England. The ecclesiastical and dynastic aims of the Stuart monarchy had been replaced by a national policy, in which the interests of the people of Great Britain sprang to the first place. The immediate consequence of this union of vigour and patriotism, in the government, was the self-assertion of England as a commercial, and therefore as a naval power. This awakened spirit of conscious strength meant war with the Dutch, who while England was pursuing ecclesiastical ends, had possessed themselves of the trade of the world. War accordingly broke out early in 1652. Even before it came to real fighting, the war of pamphlets had recommenced. The prohibition of Salmasius’ _Defensio regia_ annulled itself as a matter of course, and Salmasius was free to prepare a second _Defensio_ in answer to Milton. For the most vulnerable point of the new English Commonwealth, was through the odium excited on the continent against regicide. And the quarter from which the monarchical pamphlets were hurled against the English republic, was the press of the republic of the United Provinces, the country which had set the first example of successful rebellion against its lawful prince.

Before Salmasius’ reply was ready, there was launched from the Hague, in March, 1652, a virulent royalist piece in Latin, under the title of _Regii sanguinis clamor ad coelum_ (Cry of the King’s blood to Heaven against the English parricides). Its 160 pages contained the usual royalist invective in a rather common style of hyperbolical declamation, such as that “in comparison of the execution of Charles I., the guilt of the Jews in crucifying Christ was as nothing.” Exaggerated praises of Salmasius were followed by scurrilous and rabid abuse of Milton. In the style of the most shameless Jesuit lampoon, the _Amphitheatrum_ or the _Scaliger hypobolimaeus_, and with Jesuit tactics, every odious crime is imputed to the object of the satire, without regard to truth or probability. Exiles are proverbially credulous, and it is likely enough that the gossip of the English refugees at the Hague was much employed in improving or inventing stories about the man, who had dared to answer the royalist champion in Latin as good as his own. Salmasius in his _Defensio_ had employed these stories, distorting the events of Milton’s life to discredit him. But for the author of the _Clamor_ there was no such excuse, for the book was composed in England, by an author living in Oxford and London, who had every opportunity for informing himself accurately of the facts about Milton’s life and conversation. He chose rather to heap up at random the traditional vocabulary of defamation, which the Catholic theologians had employed for some generations past, as their best weapon against their adversaries. In these infamous productions, hatched by celibate pedants in the foul atmosphere of the Jesuit colleges, the gamut of charges always ranges from bad grammar to unnatural crime. The only circumstance which can be alleged in mitigation of the excesses of the _Regii sanguinis clamor_ is that Milton had provoked the onfall by his own violence. He who throws dirt must expect that dirt will be thrown back at him, and when it comes to mud-throwing, the blackguard has, as it is right that he should have, the best of it.

The author of the _Clamor_ was Peter Du Moulin, a son of the celebrated French Calvinist preacher of the same name. The author not daring to entrust his pamphlet to an English press, had sent it over to Holland, where it was printed under the supervision of Alexander Morus. This Morus (More or Moir) was of Scottish parentage, but born (1616) at Castres, where his father was principal of the Protestant college. Morus fitted the _Clamor_ with a preface, in which Milton was further reviled, and styled a “monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademtum.” The secret of the authorship was strictly kept, and Morus having been known to be concerned in the publication, was soon transformed in public belief into the author. So it was reported to Milton, and so Milton believed. He nursed his wrath, and took two years to meditate his blow. He caused inquiries to be made into Morus’s antecedents. It happened that Morus’s conduct had been wanting in discretion, especially in his relations with women. He had been equally imprudent in his utterances on some of the certainties of Calvinistic divinity. It was easy to collect any amount of evidence under both these heads. The system of kirk discipline offered a ready-made machinery of espionage and delation. The standing jest of the fifteenth century on the “governante” of the cure was replaced, in Calvinistic countries, by the anxiety of every minister to detect his brother minister in any intimacy upon which a scandalous construction could be put.

Morus endeavoured, through every channel at his command, to convince Milton that he was not the author of the _Clamor_. He could have saved himself by revealing the real author, who was lurking all the while close to Milton’s elbow, and whose safety depended on Morus’ silence. This high-minded respect for another’s secret is more to Morus’ honour, than any of the petty gossip about him is to his discredit. He had nothing to offer, therefore, but negative assurances, and mere denial weighed nothing with Milton, who was fully convinced that Morus lied from terror. Milton’s _Defensio Secunda_ came out in May, 1654. In this piece (written in Latin) Morus is throughout assumed to be the author of the _Clamor_, and as such is pursued through many pages in a strain of invective, in which banter is mingled with ferocity. The Hague tittle-tattle about Morus’s love-affairs is set forth in the pomp of Milton’s loftiest Latin. Sonorous periods could hardly be more disproportioned to their material content. To have kissed a girl is painted as the blackest of crimes. The sublime and the ridiculous are here blended without the step between. Milton descends even to abuse the publisher, Vlac, who had officially signed his name to Morus’s preface. The mixture of fanatical choler and grotesque jocularity, in which he rolls forth his charges of incontinence against Morus, and of petty knavery against Vlac, is only saved from being unseemly by being ridiculous. The comedy is complete when we remember that Morus had not written the _Clamor_, nor Vlac the preface. Milton’s rage blinded him; he is mad Ajax castigating innocent sheep instead of Achsaeans.

The Latin pamphlets are indispensable to a knowledge of Milton’s disposition. We see in them his grand disdain of his opponents, reproducing the concentrated intellectual scorn of the Latin Persius; his certainty of the absolute justice of his own cause, and the purity of his own motives. This lofty cast of thought is combined with an eagerness to answer the meanest taunts. The intense subjectivity of the poet breaks out in these paragraphs, and while he should be stating the case of the republic, he holds Europe listening to an account of himself, his accomplishments, his studies and travels, his stature, the colour of his eyes, his skill in fencing, &c. These egoistic utterances must have seemed to Milton’s contemporaries to be intrusive and irrelevant vanity. _Paradise Lost_ was not as yet, and to the Council of State Milton was, what he was to Whitelocke, “a blind man who wrote Latin.” But these paragraphs, in which he talks of himself, are to us the only living fragments out of many hundred worthless pages.

To the _Defensio Secunda_ there was of course a reply by Morus. It was entitled _Fides Publica_, because it was largely composed of testimonials to character. When one priest charges another with unchastity, the world looks on and laughs. But it is no laughing matter to the defendant in such an action. He can always bring exculpatory evidence, and in spite of any evidence he is always believed to be guilty. The effect of Milton’s furious denunciation of Morus had been to damage his credit in religious circles, and to make mothers of families shy of allowing him to visit at their houses.

Milton might have been content with a victory which, as Gibbon said of his own, “over such an antagonist was a sufficient humiliation.” Milton’s magnanimity was no match for his irritation. He published a rejoinder to Morus’s _Fides Publica_, reiterating his belief that Morus was author of the _Clamor_, but that it was no matter whether he was or not, since by publishing the book, and furnishing it with a recommendatory preface, he had made it his own. The charges against Morus’ character he reiterated, and strengthened by new “facts”, which Morus’s enemies had hastened to contribute to the budget of calumny. These imputations on character, mixed with insinuations of unorthodoxy, such as are ever rife in clerical controversy, Milton invests with the moral indignation of a prophet denouncing the enemies of Jehovah. He expends a wealth of vituperative Latin which makes us tremble, till we remember that it is put in motion to crush an insect.

This _Pro se defensio_ (Defence for himself), appeared in August, 1656. Morus met it by a supplementary _Fides Publica_, and Milton, resolved to have the last word, met him by a _Supplement to the Defence_. The reader will be glad to hear that this is the end of the Morus controversy. We leave Milton’s victim buried under the mountains of opprobrious Latin here heaped upon him–this “circumforanens pharmacopola, vanissimus circulator, propudium hominis et prostibulum.”



It is no part of Milton’s biography to relate the course of public events in these momentous years, merely because as Latin secretary he formulated the despatches of the Protector or of his Council, and because these Latin letters are incorporated in Milton’s works. On the course of affairs Milton’s voice had no influence, as he had no part in their transaction. Milton was the last man of whom a practical politician would have sought advice. He knew nothing of the temper of the nation, and treated all that opposed his own view with supreme disdain. On the other hand, idealist though he was, he does not move in the sphere of speculative politics, or count among those philosophic names, a few in each century, who have influenced, not action but thought. Accordingly his opinions have for us a purely personal interest. They are part of the character of the poet Milton, and do not belong to either world, of action or of mind.

The course of his political convictions up to 1654 has been traced in our narrative thus far. His breeding at home, at school, at college, was that of a member of the Established Church, but of the Puritan and Calvinistic, not of the Laudian and Arminian, party within its pale. By 1641, we find that his Puritanism has developed into Presbyterianism; he desires, not to destroy the Church, but to reform it by abolishing government by bishops, and substituting the Scotch or Genevan discipline. When he wrote his _Reason of Church Government_ (1642), he is still a royalist; not in the cavalier sense of a person attached to the reigning sovereign, or the Stuart family, but still retaining the belief of his age that monarchy in the abstract had somewhat of divine sanction. Before 1649, the divine right of monarchy, and the claim of Presbytery to be scriptural, have yielded in his mind to a wider conception of the rights of the man and the Christian. To use the party names of the time, Milton the Presbyterian has expanded into Milton the Independent. There is to be no State Church, and instead of a monarchy there is to be a commonwealth. Very soon the situation developes the important question how this commonwealth shall be administered–whether by a representative assembly, or by a picked council, or a single governor. This question was put to a test in the Parliament of 1654. The experiment of a representative assembly, begun in September 1654, broke down in January 1655. Before it was tried we find Milton in his _Second Defence_, in May 1654, recommending Cromwell to govern not by a Parliament, but by a council of officers; i.e. he is a commonwealth’s man. Arrived at this point, would Milton take his stand upon doctrinaire republicanism, and lose sight of liberty in the attempt to secure equality, as his friends Vane, Overton, Bradshaw would have done? Or would his idealist exaltation sweep him on into some one of the current fanaticisms, Leveller, Fifth Monarchy, or Muggletonian? Unpractical as he was, he was close enough to State affairs as Latin Secretary, to see that personal government by the Protector was, at the moment, the only solution. If the liberties that had been conquered by the sword were to be maintained, between levelling chaos on the one hand, and royalist reaction on the other, it was the Protector alone to whom those who prized liberty above party names could look. Accordingly Milton may be regarded from the year 1654 onwards as an Oliverian, though with particular reservations. He saw–it was impossible for a man in his situation not to see–the unavoidable necessity which forced Cromwell, at this moment, to undertake to govern without a representative assembly. The political necessity of the situation was absolute, and all reasonable men who were embarked in the cause felt it to be so.

Through all these stages Milton passed in the space of twenty years–Church-Puritan, Presbyterian, Royalist, Independent, Commonwealth’s man, Oliverian. These political phases were not the acquiescence of a placeman, or indifferentist, in mutations for which he does not care; still less were they changes either of party or of opinion. Whatever he thought, Milton thought and felt intensely, and expressed emphatically; and even his enemies could not accuse him of a shadow of inconsistency or wavering in his principles. On the contrary, tenacity, or persistence of idea, amounted in him to a serious defect of character. A conviction once formed dominated him, so that, as in the controversy with Morus, he could not be persuaded that he had made a mistake. No mind, the history of which we have an opportunity of intimately studying, could be more of one piece and texture than was that of Milton from youth to age. The names, which we are obliged to give to his successive political stages, do not indicate shades of colour adopted from the prevailing political ground, but the genuine development of the public consciousness of Puritan England repeated in an individual. Milton moved forward, not because Cromwell and the rest advanced, but with Cromwell and the rest. We may perhaps describe the motive force as a passionate attachment to personal liberty, liberty of thought and action. This ideal force working in the minds of a few, “those worthies which are the soul of that enterprise” (_Tenure of Kings_), had been the mainspring of the whole revolution. The Levellers, Quakers, Fifth Monarchy men, and the wilder Anabaptist sects, only showed the workings of the same idea in men, whose intellects had not been disciplined by education or experience. The idea of liberty, formulated into a doctrine, and bowed down to as a holy creed, made some of its best disciples, such as Harrison and Overton, useless at the most critical juncture. The party of anti-Oliverian republicans, the Intransigentes, became one of the greatest difficulties of the Government. Milton, with his idealism, his thoroughness, and obstinate persistence, was not unlikely to have shipwrecked upon the same rock. He was saved by his constancy to the principle of religious liberty, which was found with the party that had destroyed the King because he would not be ruled by a Parliament, while in 1655 it supported the Protector in governing without a Parliament. Supreme authority in itself was not Cromwell’s aim; he used it only to secure the fulfilment of those ideas of religious liberty, civil order, and Protestant ascendancy in Europe, which filled his whole soul. To Milton, as to Cromwell, forms, whether of worship or government, were but means to an end, and were to be changed whenever expediency might require.

In 1655, then, Milton was an Oliverian, but with reservations. The most important of these reservations regarded the relation of the state to the church. Cromwell never wholly dropped the scheme of a national church. It was, indeed, to be as comprehensive as possible; Episcopacy was pulled down, Presbytery was not set up, but individual ministers might be Episcopalian or Presbyterian in sentiment, provided they satisfied a certain standard, intelligible enough to that generation, of “godliness”. Here Milton seems to have remained throughout upon the old Independent platform; he will not have the civil power step over its limits into the province of religion at all. Many matters, in which the old prelatic church had usurped upon the domain of the state, should be replaced under the secular authority. But the spiritual region was matter of conscience, and not of external regulation.

A further reservation which Milton would make related to endowments, or the maintenance of ministers. The Protectorate, and the constitution of 1657, maintained an established clergy in the enjoyment of tithes or other settled stipends. Nothing was more abhorrent to Milton’s sentiment than state payment in religious things. The minister who receives such pay becomes a state pensioner, “a hireling.” The law of tithes is a Jewish law, repealed by the Gospel, under which the minister is only maintained by the freewill offerings of the congregation to which he ministers. This antipathy to hired preachers was one of Milton’s earliest convictions. It thrusts itself, rather importunately, into _Lycidas_ (1636), and reappears in the Sonnet to Cromwell (_Sonnet_ xvii., 1652), before it is dogmatically expounded in the pamphlet, _Considerations touching means to remove Hirelings out of the Church_ (1659). Of the two corruptions of the church by the secular power, one by force, the other by pay, Milton regards the last as the most dangerous. “Under force, though no thank to the forcers, true religion ofttimes best thrives and flourishes; but the corruption of teachers, most commonly the effect of hire, is the very bane of truth in them who are so corrupted.” Nor can we tax this aversion to a salaried ministry, with being a monomania of sect. It is essentially involved in the conception of religion as a spiritual state, a state of grace. A soul in this state can only be ministered to by a brother in a like frame of mind. To assign a place with a salary, is to offer a pecuniary inducement to simulate this qualification. This principle may be wrong, but it is not unreasonable. It is the very principle on which the England of our day has decided against the endowment of science. The endowment of the church was to Milton the poison of religion, and in so thinking he was but true to his conception of religion. Cromwell, whatever may have been his speculative opinions, decided in favour of a state endowment, upon the reasons, or some of them, which have moved modern statesmen to maintain church establishments.

With whatever reservations, Milton was an Oliverian. Supporting the Protector’s policy, he admired his conduct, and has recorded his admiration in the memorable sonnet xii. How the Protector thought of Milton, or even that he knew him at all, there remains no evidence. Napoleon said of Corneille that, if he had lived in his day, he would have made him his first minister.

Milton’s ideas were not such as could have value in the eyes of a practical statesman. Yet Cromwell was not always taking advice, or discussing business. He, who could take a liking for the genuine inwardness of the enthusiast George Fox, might have been expected to appreciate equal unworldliness, joined with culture and reading, in Milton. “If,” says Neal, “there was a man in England who excelled in any faculty or science, the Protector would find him out and reward him.” But the excellence which the Protector prized was aptness for public employment, and this was the very quality in which Milton was deficient.

The poverty of Milton’s state letters has been often remarked. Whenever weighty negotiations are going on, other pens than his are employed. We may ascribe this to his blindness. Milton could only dictate, and therefore everything entrusted to him must pass through an amanuensis, who might blab. One exception to the commonplace character of the state papers there is. The massacre of the Vaudois by their own sovereign, Charles Emanuel II., Duke of Savoy, excited a thrill of horror in England greater than the massacres of Scio or of Batak roused in our time. For in Savoy it was not humanity only that was outraged, it was a deliberate assault of the Papal half of Europe upon an outpost of the Protestant cause.

One effect of the Puritan revolution had been to alter entirely the foreign policy of England. By nature, by geographical position, by commercial occupations, and the free spirit of the natives, these islands were marked out to be members of the northern confederacy of progressive and emancipated Europe. The foreign policy of Elisabeth had been steady adhesion to this law of nature. The two first Stuarts, coquetting with semi-Catholicism at home, had leaned with all the weight of the crown and of government towards catholic connexions. The country had always offered a vain resistance; the Parliament of 1621 had been dismissed for advising James to join the continental protestants against Spain. It was certain, therefore, that when the government became Puritan, its foreign policy would again become that of Elisabeth. This must have been the case even if Cromwell had not been there. He saw not only that England must be a partner in the general protestant interest, but that it fell to England to make the combination and to lead it. He acted in this with his usual decision. He placed England in her natural antagonism to Spain; he made peace with the Dutch; he courted the friendship of the Swiss Cantons, and the alliance of the Scandinavian and German Princes; and to France, which had a divided interest, he made advantageous offers provided the Cardinal would disconnect himself from the ultramontane party.

It was in April 1655, that the Vaudois atrocities suddenly added the impulse of religious sympathy to the permanent gravitation of the political forces. In all catholic countries the Jesuits had by this time made themselves masters of the councils of the princes. The aim of Jesuit policy in the seventeenth century was nothing less than the entire extirpation of protestantism and protestants in the countries which they ruled. The inhabitants of certain Piedmontese valleys had held from time immemorial, and long before Luther, tenets and forms of worship very like those to which the German reformers had sought to bring back the church. The Vaudois were wretchedly poor, and had been incessantly the objects of aggression and persecution. In January 1655, a sudden determination was taken by the Turin government to make them conform to the catholic religion by force. The whole of the inhabitants of three valleys were ordered to quit the country within three days, under pain of death and confiscation of goods, unless they would become, or undertake to become, catholic. They sent their humble remonstrances to the court of Turin against this edict. The remonstrances were disregarded, and military execution was ordered. On April 17, 1655, the soldiers, recruits from all countries–the Irish are specially mentioned–were let loose upon the unarmed population. Murder and rape and burning are the ordinary incidents of military execution. These were not enough to satisfy the ferocity of the catholic soldiery, who revelled for many days in the infliction of all that brutal lust or savage cruelty can suggest to men.

It was nearly a month before the news reached England. A cry of horror went through the country, and Cromwell said it came “as near his heart as if his own nearest and dearest had been concerned.” A day of humiliation was appointed, large collections were made for the sufferers, and a special envoy was despatched to remonstrate with the Duke of Savoy. Cardinal Mazarin, however, seeing the importance which the Lord Protector would acquire by taking the lead on this occasion, stepped in, and patched up a hasty arrangement, the treaty of Pignerol, by which some sort of fallacious protection was ostensibly secured to the survivors of the massacre.

All the despatches in this business were composed by Milton. But he only found the words; especially in the letter to the Duke of Savoy, the tone of which is much more moderate than we should have expected, considering that Blake was in the Mediterranean, and master of the coasts of the Duke’s dominions. It is impossible to extract from these letters any characteristic trait, unless it is from the speech, which the envoy, Morland, was instructed to deliver at Turin, in which it is said that all the Neros of all ages had never contrived inhumanities so atrocious, as what had taken place in the Vaudois valleys. Thus restricted in his official communications, Milton gave vent to his personal feelings on the occasion in the well-known sonnet (xviii.) “Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold.”

It has been already said that there remains no trace of any personal intercourse between Milton and Cromwell. He seems to have remained equally unknown to, or unregarded by, the other leading men in the Government or the Council. It is vain to conjecture the cause of this general neglect. Some have found it in the coldness with which Milton regarded, parts at least of, the policy of the Protectorate. Others refer it to the haughty nature of the man, who will neither ask a favour, nor make the first advances towards intimacy. This last supposition is nearer the truth than the former. An expression he uses in a private letter may be cited in its support. Writing to Peter Heimbach in 1657, to excuse himself from giving him a recommendation to the English ambassador in Holland, he says: “I am sorry that I am not able to do this; I have very little acquaintance with those in power, inasmuch as I keep very much to my own house, and prefer to do so.” Something may also be set down to the character of the Puritan leaders, alien to all poetry, and knowing no books but the Bible.

The mental isolation in which the great poet lived his life, is a remarkable feature of his biography. It was not only after the Restoration that he appears lonely and friendless; it was much the same during the previous period of the Parliament and the Protectorate. Just at one time, about 1641, we hear from our best authority, Phillips, of his cultivating the society of men of his own age, and “keeping a gawdy-day”, but this only once in three weeks or a month, with “two gentlemen of Gray’s Inn.” He had, therefore, known what it was to be sociable. But the general tenour of his life was other; proud, reserved, self-contained, repellent; brooding over his own ideas, not easily admitting into his mind the ideas of others. It is indeed an erroneous estimate of Milton to attribute to him a hard or austere nature. He had all the quick sensibility which belongs to the poetic temperament, and longed to be loved that he might love again. But he had to pay the penalty of all who believe in their own ideas, in that their ideas come between them and the persons that approach them, and constitute a mental barrier which can only be broken down by sympathy. And sympathy for ideas is hard to find, just in proportion as those ideas are profound, far-reaching, the fruit of long study and meditation. Hence it was that Milton did not associate readily with his contemporaries, but was affable and instructive in conversation with young persons, and those who would approach him in the attitude of disciples. His daughter Deborah, who could tell so little about him, remembered that he was delightful company, the life of a circle, and that he was so, through a flow of subjects, and an unaffected cheerfulness and civility. I would interpret this testimony, the authenticity of which is indisputable, of his demeanour with the young, and those who were modest enough to wait upon his utterances. His isolation from his coevals, and from those who offered resistance, was the necessary consequence of his force of character, and the moral tenacity which endured no encroachment on the narrow scheme of thought; over which it was incessantly brooding.

Though, as Johnson says “his literature was immense”, there was no humanity in it; it was fitted immovably into a scholastic frame-work. Hence it was no bond of sympathy between him and other men. We find him in no intimate relation with any of the contemporary men of learning, poets, or wits. From such of them as were of the cavalier party he was estranged by politics. That it was Milton’s interposition which saved Davenant’s life in 1651, even were the story better authenticated than it is, is not an evidence of intimacy. The three men most eminent for learning (in the usually received sense of the word) in England at that day were Selden (d. 1654), Gataker (d. 1654), and Archbishop Usher (d. 1656), all of whom were to be found in London. With none of the three is there any trace of Milton ever having had intercourse.

It is probable, but not certain, that it was at Milton’s intercession that the Council proposed to subsidise Brian Walton in his great enterprise–the Polyglott Bible. This, the noblest monument of the learning of the Anglican Church, was projected and executed by the silenced clergy. Fifteen years of spoliation and humiliation thus bore richer fruit of learning than the two centuries of wealth and honour which have since elapsed. As Brian Walton had, at one time, been curate of Allhallows, Bread Street, Milton may have known him, and it has been inferred that by Twells’ expression–“The Council of state, before whom _some_, having _relation to them_, brought this business”–Milton is meant.

Not with John Hales, Cudworth, Whichcote, Nicholas Bernard, Meric Casaubon, nor with any of the men of letters who were churchmen, do we find Milton in correspondence. The interest of religion was more powerful than the interest of knowledge; and the author of _Eikonoklastes_ must have been held in special abhorrence by the loyal clergy. The general sentiment of this party is expressed in Hacket’s tirade, for which the reader is referred to his Life of Archbishop Williams.

From Presbyterians, such as Theophilus Gale or Baxter, Milton was equally separated by party. Of Hobbes, Milton’s widow told Aubrey “that he was not of his acquaintance; that her husband did not like him at all, but would acknowledge him to be a man of great parts.”

Owing to these circumstances, the circle of Milton’s intimates contains few, and those undistinguished names. One exception there was. In Andrew Marvel Milton found one congenial spirit, incorruptible amid poverty, unbowed by defeat. Marvel was twelve years Milton’s junior, and a Cambridge man (Trinity), like himself. He had had better training still, having been for two years an inmate of Nunappleton, in the capacity of instructor to Mary, only daughter of the great Lord Fairfax. In 1652, Milton had recommended Marvel for the appointment of assistant secretary to himself, now that he was partially disabled by his blindness. The recommendation was not effectual at the time, another man, Philip Meadows, obtaining the post. It was not till 1657, when Meadows was sent on a mission to Denmark, that Marvel became Milton’s colleague. He remained attached to him to the last. It were to be wished that he had left some reminiscences of his intercourse with the poet in his later years, some authentic notice of him in his prose letters, instead of a copy of verses, which attest, at least, his affectionate admiration for Milton’s great epic, though they are a poor specimen of his own poetical efforts.

Of Marchmont Needham, and Samuel Hartlib mention has been already made. During the eight years of his sojourn in the house in Petty France, “he was frequently visited by persons of quality,” says Phillips. The only name he gives is Lady Ranelagh. This lady, by birth a Boyle, sister of Robert Boyle, had placed first her nephew, and then her son, under Milton’s tuition. Of an excellent understanding, and liberally cultivated, she sought Milton’s society, and as he could not go to visit her, she went to him. There are no letters of Milton addressed to her, but he mentions her once as “a most superior woman,” and when, in 1656, she left London for Ireland, he “grieves for the loss of the one acquaintance which was worth to him all the rest.” These names, with that of Dr. Paget, exhaust the scanty list of Milton’s intimates during this period.

To these older friends, however, must be added his former pupils, now become men, but remaining ever attached to their old tutor, seeing him often when in London, and when absent corresponding with him. With them he was “affable and instructive in conversation.” Henry Lawrence, son of the President of Oliver’s Council, and Cyriac Skinner, grandson, of Chief Justice Coke, were special favourites. With these he would sometimes “by the fire help waste a sullen day;” and it was these two who called forth from him the only utterances of this time which are not solemn, serious, or sad. Sonnet XVI is a poetical invitation to Henry Lawrence, “of virtuous father virtuous son,” to a “neat repast,” not without wine and song, to cheer the winter season. Besides these two, whose names are familiar to us through the Sonnets, there was Lady Ranelagh’s son, Richard Jones, who went, in 1656, to Oxford, attended by his tutor, the German Heinrich Oldenburg. We have two letters (Latin) addressed to Jones at Oxford, which are curious as showing that Milton was as dissatisfied with that university even after the reform, with Oliver Chancellor, and Owen Vice-Chancellor, as he had been with Cambridge.

His two nephews, also his pupils, must have ceased at a very early period to be acceptable either as friends or companions. They had both–but the younger brother, John, more decidedly than Edward–passed into the opposite camp. This is a result of the uncle’s strict system of Puritan discipline, which will surprise no one who has observed that, in education, mind reacts against the pressure of will. The teacher who seeks to impose his views raises antagonists, and not disciples. The generation of young men who grew up under the Commonwealth were in intellectual revolt against the constraint of Puritanism, before they proceeded to political revolution against its authority. Long before the reaction embodied itself in the political fact of the Restoration, it had manifested itself in popular literature. The theatres were still closed by the police, but Davenant found a public in London to applaud an “entertainment by declamations and music, after the manner of the ancients” (1656). The press began timidly to venture on books of amusement, in a style of humour which seemed ribald and heathenish to the staid and sober covenanter. Something of the jollity and merriment of old Elisabethan days seemed to be in the air. But with a vast difference. Instead of “dallying with the innocence of love,” as in _England’s Helicon_ (1600), or _The Passionate Pilgrim_, the sentiment, crushed and maimed by unwise repression, found a less honest and less refined expression. The strongest and most universal of human passions when allowed freedom, light, and air, becomes poetic inspiration. The same passion coerced by police is but driven underground.

So it came to pass that, in these years, the Protector’s Council of state was much exercised by attempts of the London press to supply the public, weary of sermons, with some light literature of the class now (1879) known as facetious. On April 25, 1656, the august body which had upon its hands the government of three kingdoms and the protection of the protestant interest militant throughout Europe, could find nothing better to do than to take into consideration a book entitled _Sportive Wit, or The Muse’s Merriment_. Sad to relate, the book was found to contain “much lascivious and profane matter.” And the editor?–no other than John Phillips, Milton’s youngest nephew! It is as if nature, in reasserting herself, had made deliberate selection of its agent. The pure poet of _Comus_, the man who had publicly boasted his chastity, had trained up a pupil to become the editor of an immodest drollery! Another and more original production of John Phillips, the _Satyr against Hypocrites_, was an open attack, with mixed banter and serious indignation, on the established religion. “It affords,” says Godwin, “unequivocal indication of the company now kept by the author with cavaliers, and _bon vivans_, and demireps, and men of ruined fortunes.” Edward Phillips, the elder brother, followed suit with the _Mysteries of Love and Eloquence_ (1658), a book, according to Godwin, “entitled to no insignificant rank among the multifarious productions issued from the press, to debauch the manners of the nation, and to bring back the King.” Truly, a man’s worst vexations come to him from his own relations. Milton had the double annoyance of the public exposure before the Council of State, and the private reflection on the failure of his own system of education.

The homage which was wanting to the prophet in his own country was more liberally tendered by foreigners. Milton, it must be remembered, was yet only known in England as the pamphleteer of strong republican, but somewhat eccentric, opinions. On the continent he was the answerer of Salmasius, the vindicator of liberty against despotic power. “Learned foreigners of note,” Phillips tells us, “could not part out of this city without giving a visit” to his uncle. Aubrey even exaggerates this flocking of the curious, so far as to say that some came over into England only to see Oliver Protector and John Milton. That Milton had more than he liked of these sightseers, who came to look at him when he could not see them, we can easily believe. Such visitors would of course be from protestant countries. Italians, though admiring his elegant Latin, had “disliked him on account of his too severe morals.” A glimpse, and no more than a glimpse, of the impression such visitors could carry away, we obtain in a letter written, in 1651, by a Nueremberg pastor, Christoph Arnold, to a friend at home:–“The strenuous defender of the new _regime_, Milton, enters readily into conversation; his speech is pure, his written style very pregnant. He has committed himself to a harsh, not to say unjust, criticism of the old English divines, and of their Scripture commentaries, which are truly learned, be witness the genius of learning himself!” It must not be supposed from this that Milton had discoursed with Arnold on the English divines. The allusion is to that onfall upon the reformers, Cranmer, Latimer, &c., which had escaped from Milton’s pen in 1642 to the great grief of his friends. If the information of a dissenting minister, one Thomas Bradbury, who professed to derive it from Jeremiah White, one of Oliver’s chaplains, may be trusted, Milton “was allowed by the Parliament a weekly table for the entertainment of foreign ministers and persons of learning, such especially as came from protestant states, which allowance was also continued by Cromwell.”

Such homage, though it may be a little tiresome, may have gratified for the moment the political writer, but it would not satisfy the poet who was dreaming of an immortality of far other fame–

Two equal’d with me in fate,
So were I equal’d with them in renown.

And to one with Milton’s acute sensibility, yearning for sympathy and love, dependent, through his calamity, on the eyes, as on the heart, of others, his domestic interior was of more consequence than outside demonstrations of respect. Four years after the death of his first wife he married again. We know nothing more of this second wife, Catharine Woodcock, than what may be gathered from the Sonnet XIX, in which he commemorated his “late espoused saint,” in whose person “love, sweetness, goodness shin’d.” After only fifteen months union she died (1658), after having given birth to a daughter, who lived only a few months. Milton was again alone.

His public functions as Latin Secretary had been contracted within narrow limits by his blindness. The heavier part of the duties had been transferred to others, first to Weckherlin, then to Philip Meadows, and lastly to Andrew Marvel. The more confidential diplomacy Thurloe reserved for his own cabinet. But Milton continued up to the last to be occasionally called upon for a Latin epistle. On September 3, 1658, passed away the master-mind which had hitherto compelled the jarring elements in the nation to co-exist together, and chaos was let loose. Milton retained and exercised his secretaryship under Richard Protector, and even under the restored Parliament. His latest Latin letter is of date May 16, 1659. He is entirely outside all the combinations and complications which filled the latter half of that year, after Richard’s retirement in May. It is little use writing to foreign potentates now, for, with one man’s life, England has fallen from her lead in Europe, and is gravitating towards the catholic and reactionary powers, France or Spain. Milton, though he knows nothing more than one of the public, “only what it appears to us without doors,” he says, will yet write about it. The habit of pamphleteering was on him, and he will write what no one will care to read. The stiff-necked commonwealth men, with their doctrinaire republicanism, were standing out for their constitutional ideas, blind to the fact that the royalists were all the while undermining the ground beneath the feet alike of Presbyterian and Independent, Parliament and army. The Greeks of Constantinople denouncing the Azymite, when Mohammed II. was forming his lines round the doomed city, were not more infatuated than these pedantic commonwealth men with their parliamentarianism when Charles II. was at Calais.

Not less inopportune than the public men of the party, Milton chooses this time for inculcating his views on endowments. A fury of utterance was upon him, and he poured out, during the death-throes of the republic, pamphlet upon pamphlet, as fast as he could get them written to his dictation. These extemporised effusions betray in their style, hurry and confusion, the restlessness of a coming despair. The passionate enthusiasm of the early tracts is gone, and all the old faults, the obscurity, the inconsecutiveness, the want of arrangement, are exaggerated. In the _Ready Way_ there is a monster sentence of thirty-nine lines, containing 336 words. Though his instincts were perturbed, he was unaware what turn things were taking. In February 1660, when all persons of ordinary information saw that the restoration of monarchy was certain, Milton knew it not, and put out a tract to show his countrymen a _Ready and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth_. With the same pertinacity with which he had adhered to his own assumption that Morus was author of the _Clamor_, he now refused to believe in the return of the Stuarts. Fast as his pen moved, events outstripped it, and he has to rewrite the _Ready and easy way_ to suit their march. The second edition is overtaken by the Restoration, and it should seem was never circulated. Milton will ever “give advice to Sylla,” and writes a letter of admonition to Monk, which, however, never reached either the press or Sylla.

The month of May 1660, put a forced end to his illusion. Before the 29th of that month he had fled from the house in Petty France, and been sheltered by a friend in the city. In this friend’s house, in Bartholomew Close, he lay concealed till the passing of the Act of Oblivion, 29th August. Phillips says that he owed his exemption from the vengeance which overtook so many of his friends, to Andrew Marvel, “who acted vigorously in his behalf, and made a considerable party for him.” But in adding that “he was so far excepted as not to bear any office in the commonwealth,” Phillips is in error. Milton’s name does not occur in the Act. Pope used to tell that Davenant had employed his interest to protect a brother-poet, thus returning a similar act of generosity done to himself by Milton in 1650. Pope had this story from Betterton the actor. How far Davenant exaggerated to Betterton his own influence or his exertions, we cannot tell. Another account assigns the credit of the intervention to Secretary Morris and Sir Thomas Clarges. After all, it is probable that he owed his immunity to his insignificance and his harmlessness. The formality of burning two of his books by the hands of the hangman was gone through. He was also for some time during the autumn of 1660 in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, for on 15th December, there is an entry in the Commons journals ordering his discharge. It is characteristic of Milton that, even in this moment of peril, he stood up for his rights, and refused to pay an overcharge, which the official thought he might safely exact from a rebel and a covenanter.

THIRD PERIOD, 1660-1674.



Revolutions are of two kinds; they are either progressive or reactionary. A revolution of progress is often destructive, sweeping away much which should have been preserved. But such a revolution has a regenerating force; it renews the youth of a nation, and gives free play to its vital powers. Lost limbs are replaced by new. A revolution of reaction, on the other hand, is a benumbing influence, paralysing effort, and levelling character. In such a conservative revolution, the mean, the selfish, and the corrupt come to the top; man seeks ease and enjoyment rather than duty; virtue, honour, patriotism, and disinterestedness disappear altogether from a society which has ceased to believe in them.

The Restoration of 1660 was such a revolution. Complete and instantaneous inversion of the position of the two parties in the nation, it occasioned much individual hardship. But this was only the fortune of war, the necessary consequence of party ascendancy. The Restoration was much more than a triumph of the party of the royalists over that of the roundheads; it was the deathblow to national aspiration, to all those aims which raise man above himself. It destroyed and trampled under foot his ideal. The Restoration was a moral catastrophe. It was not that there wanted good men among the churchmen, men as pious and virtuous as the Puritans whom they displaced. But the royalists came back as the party of reaction, reaction of the spirit of the world against asceticism, of self-indulgence against duty, of materialism against idealism. For a time virtue was a public laughing-stock, and the word “saint,” the highest expression in the language for moral perfection, connoted