Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Critical and Historical Essays Volume 1 by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Part 4 out of 16

Adobe PDF icon
Download Critical and Historical Essays Volume 1 pdf
File size: 1.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

We must not omit to mention that those who were afterwards the
most distinguished ornaments of the King's party supported the
bill of attainder. It is almost certain that Hyde voted for it.
It is quite certain that Falkland both voted and spoke for it.
The opinion of Hampden, as far as it can be collected from a very
obscure note of one of his speeches, seems to have been that the
proceeding by Bill was unnecessary, and that it would be a better
course to obtain judgment on the impeachment.

During this year the Court opened a negotiation with the leaders
of the Opposition. The Earl of Bedford was invited to form an
administration on popular principles. St. John was made
solicitor-general. Hollis was to have been secretary of state,
and Pym chancellor of the exchequer. The post of tutor to the
Prince of Wales was designed for Hampden. The death of the Earl
of Bedford prevented this arrangement from being carried into
effect; and it may be doubted whether, even if that nobleman's
life had been prolonged, Charles would ever have consented to
surround himself with counsellors whom he could not but hate and

Lord Clarendon admits that the conduct of Hampden during this
year was mild and temperate, that he seemed disposed rather to
soothe than to excite the public mind, and that, when violent and
unreasonable motions were made by his followers, he generally
left the House before the division, lest he should seem to give
countenance to their extravagance. His temper was moderate. He
sincerely loved peace. He felt also great fear lest too
precipitate a movement should produce a reaction. The events
which took place early in the next session clearly showed that
this fear was not unfounded.

During the autumn the Parliament adjourned for a few weeks.
Before the recess, Hampden was despatched to Scotland by the
House of Commons, nominally as a commissioner, to obtain security
for a debt which the Scots had contracted during the last
invasion; but in truth that he might keep watch over the King,
who had now repaired to Edinburgh, for the purpose of finally
adjusting the points of difference which remained between him and
his northern subjects. It was the business of Hampden to dissuade
the Covenanters from making their peace with the Court, at the
expense of the popular party in England.

While the King was in Scotland, the Irish rebellion broke out.
The suddenness and violence of this terrible explosion excited a
strange suspicion in the public mind. The Queen was a professed
Papist. The King and the Archbishop of Canterbury had not indeed
been reconciled to the See of Rome; but they had, while acting
towards the Puritan party with the utmost rigour, and speaking of
that party with the utmost contempt, shown great tenderness and
respect towards the Catholic religion and its professors. In
spite of the wishes of successive Parliaments, the Protestant
separatists had been cruelly persecuted. And at the same time, in
spite of the wishes of those very Parliaments, laws which were in
force against the Papists, and which, unjustifiable as they were,
suited the temper of that age, had not been carried into
execution. The Protestant nonconformists had not yet learned
toleration in the school of suffering. They reprobated the
partial lenity which the government showed towards idolaters;
and, with some show of reason, ascribed to bad motives conduct
which, in such a king as Charles, and such a prelate as Laud,
could not possibly be ascribed to humanity or to liberality of
sentiment. The violent Arminianism of the Archbishop, his
childish attachment to ceremonies, his superstitious veneration
for altars, vestments, and painted windows, his bigoted zeal for
the constitution and the privileges of his order, his known
opinions respecting the celibacy of the clergy, had excited great
disgust throughout that large party which was every day becoming
more and more hostile to Rome, and more and more inclined to the
doctrines and the discipline of Geneva. It was believed by many
that the Irish rebellion had been secretly encouraged by the
Court; and, when the Parliament met again in November, after a
short recess, the Puritans were more intractable than ever.

But that which Hampden had feared had come to pass. A reaction
had taken place. A large body of moderate and well-meaning men,
who had heartily concurred in the strong measures adopted before
the recess, were inclined to pause. Their opinion was that,
during many years the country had been grievously misgoverned,
and that a great reform had been necessary; but that a great
reform had been made, that the grievances of the nation had been
fully redressed, that sufficient vengeance had been exacted for
the past, that sufficient security had been provided for the
future, and that it would, therefore, be both ungrateful and
unwise to make any further attacks on the royal prerogative. In
support of this opinion many plausible arguments have been used.
But to all these arguments there is one short answer. The King
could not be trusted.

At the head of those who may be called the Constitutional
Royalists were Falkland, Hyde, and Culpeper. All these eminent
men had, during the former year, been in very decided opposition
to the Court. In some of those very proceedings with which their
admirers reproach Hampden, they had taken a more decided part
than Hampden. They had all been concerned in the impeachment of
Strafford. They had all, there is reason to believe, voted for
the Bill of Attainder. Certainly none of them voted against it.
They had all agreed to the act which made the consent of the
Parliament necessary to a dissolution or prorogation. Hyde had
been among the most active of those who attacked the Council of
York. Falkland had voted for the exclusion of the bishops from
the Upper House. They were now inclined to halt in the path of
reform, perhaps to retrace a few of their steps.

A direct collision soon took place between the two parties into
which the House of Commons, lately at almost perfect unity with
itself, was now divided. The opponents of the government moved
that celebrated address to the King which is known by the name of
the Grand Remonstrance. In this address all the oppressive acts
of the preceding fifteen years were set forth with great energy
of language; and, in conclusion, the King was entreated to employ
no ministers in whom the Parliament could not confide.

The debate on the Remonstrance was long and stormy. It commenced
at nine in the morning of the twenty-first of November, and
lasted till after midnight. The division showed that a great
change had taken place in the temper of the House. Though many
members had retired from exhaustion. three hundred voted and
the Remonstrance was carried by a majority of only nine. A
violent debate followed, on the question whether the minority
should be allowed to protest against this decision. The
excitement was so great that several members were on the point of
proceeding to personal violence. "We had sheathed our swords in
each other's bowels," says an eye-witness, "had not the sagacity
and great calmness of Mr. Hampden, by a short speech, prevented
it." The House did not rise till two in the morning.

The situation of the Puritan leaders was now difficult and full
of peril. The small majority which they still had might soon
become a minority. Out of doors, their supporters in the higher
and middle classes were beginning to fall off. There was a
growing opinion that the King had been hardly used. The English
are always inclined to side with a weak party which is in the
wrong, rather than with a strong party which is in the right.
This may be seen in all contests, from contests of boxers to
contests of faction. Thus it was that a violent reaction took
place in favour of Charles the Second against the Whigs in 1681.
Thus it was that an equally violent reaction took place in favour
of George the Third against the coalition in 1784. A similar
action was beginning to take place during the second year of the
Long Parliament. Some members of the Opposition "had resumed"
says Clarendon, "their old resolution of leaving the kingdom."
Oliver Cromwell openly declared that he and many others would
have emigrated if they had been left in a minority on the
question of the Remonstrance.

Charles had now a last chance of regaining the affection of his
people. If he could have resolved to give his confidence to the
leaders of the moderate party in the House of Commons, and to
regulate his proceedings by their advice, he might have been,
not, indeed, as he had been, a despot, but the powerful and
respected king of a free people. The nation might have enjoyed
liberty and repose under a government with Falkland at its head,
checked by a constitutional Opposition under the conduct of
Hampden. It was not necessary that, in order to accomplish this
happy end, the King should sacrifice any part of his lawful
prerogative, or submit to any conditions inconsistent with his
dignity. It was necessary only that he should abstain from
treachery, from violence, from gross breaches of the law. This
was all that the nation was then disposed to require of him. And
even this was too much.

For a short time he seemed inclined to take a wise and temperate
course. He resolved to make Falkland secretary of state, and
Culpeper chancellor of the exchequer. He declared his intention
of conferring in a short time some important office on Hyde. He
assured these three persons that he would do nothing relating to
the House of Commons without their joint advice, and that he
would communicate all his designs to them in the most unreserved
manner. This resolution, had he adhered to it, would have averted
many years of blood and mourning. But "in very few days," says
Clarendon, "he did fatally swerve from it."

On the third of January 1642, without giving the slightest hint
of his intention to those advisers whom he had solemnly promised
to consult, he sent down the attorney-general to impeach Lord
Kimbolton, Hampden, Pym, Hollis, and two other members of the
House of Commons, at the bar of the Lords, on a charge of High
Treason. It is difficult to find in the whole history of England
such an instance of tyranny, perfidy, and folly. The most
precious and ancient rights of the subject were violated by this
act. The only way in which Hampden and Pym could legally be tried
for treason at the suit of the King, was by a petty jury on a
bill found by a grand jury. The attorney-general had no right to
impeach them. The House of Lords had no right to try them.

The Commons refused to surrender their members. The Peers showed
no inclination to usurp the unconstitutional jurisdiction which
the King attempted to force on them. A contest began, in which
violence and weakness were on the one side, law and resolution on
the other. Charles sent an officer to seal up the lodgings and
trunks of the accused members. The Commons sent their sergeant to
break the seals. The tyrant resolved to follow up one outrage by
another. In making the charge, he had struck at the institution
of juries. In executing the arrest, he struck at the privileges
of Parliament. He resolved to go to the House in person with an
armed force, and there to seize the leaders of the Opposition,
while engaged in the discharge of their parliamentary duties.

What was his purpose? Is it possible to believe that he had no
definite purpose, that he took the most important step of his
whole reign without having for one moment considered what might
be its effects? Is it possible to believe that he went merely for
the purpose of making himself a laughing-stock, that he intended,
if he had found the accused members, and if they had refused, as
it was their right and duty to refuse, the submission which he
illegally demanded, to leave the House without bringing them
away? If we reject both these suppositions, we must believe, and
we certainly do believe, that he went fully determined to carry
his unlawful design into effect by violence, and, if necessary,
to shed the blood of the chiefs of the Opposition on the very
floor of the Parliament House.

Lady Carlisle conveyed intelligence of the design to Pym. The
five members had time to withdraw before the arrival of Charles.
They left the House as he was entering New Palace Yard. He was
accompanied by about two hundred halberdiers of his guard, and by
many gentlemen of the Court armed with swords. He walked up
Westminster Hall. At the southern end of the Hall his attendants
divided to the right and left and formed a lane to the door of
the House of Commons. He knocked, entered, darted a look towards
the place which Pym usually occupied, and, seeing it empty,
walked up to the table. The Speaker fell on his knee. The members
rose and uncovered their heads in profound silence, and the King
took his seat in the chair. He looked round the House. But the
five members were nowhere to be seen. He interrogated the
Speaker. The Speaker answered, that he was merely the organ of
the House, and had neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, but
according to their direction. The King muttered a few feeble
sentences about his respect for the laws of the realm, and the
privileges of Parliament, and retired. As he passed along the
benches, several resolute voices called out audibly "Privilege!"
He returned to Whitehall with his company of bravoes, who, while
he was in the House, had been impatiently waiting in the lobby
for the word, cocking their pistols, and crying, "Fall on." That
night he put forth a proclamation, directing that the ports
should be stopped, and that no person should, at his peril,
venture to harbour the accused members.

Hampden and his friends had taken refuge in Coleman Street. The
city of London was indeed the fastness of public liberty, and
was, in those times, a place of at least as much importance as
Paris during the French Revolution. The city, properly so called,
now consists in a great measure of immense warehouses and
counting-houses, which are frequented by traders and their clerks
during the day, and left in almost total solitude during the
night. It was then closely inhabited by three hundred thousand
persons, to whom it was not merely a place of business, but a
place of constant residence. The great capital had as complete a
civil and military organization as if it had been an independent
republic. Each citizen had his company; and the companies, which
now seem to exist only for the sake of epicures and of
antiquaries, were then formidable brotherhoods, the members of
which were almost as closely bound together as the members of a
Highland clan. How strong these artificial ties were, the
numerous and valuable legacies anciently bequeathed by citizens
to their corporations abundantly prove. The municipal offices
were filled by the most opulent and respectable merchants of the
kingdom. The pomp of the magistracy of the capital was inferior
only to that which surrounded the person of the sovereign. The
Londoners loved their city with that patriotic love which is
found only in small communities, like those of ancient Greece, or
like those which arose in Italy during the middle ages. The
numbers, the intelligence, the wealth of the citizens, the
democratical form of their local government, and their vicinity
to the Court and to the Parliament, made them one of the most
formidable bodies in the kingdom. Even as soldiers they were not
to be despised. In an age in which war is a profession, there is
something ludicrous in the idea of battalions composed of
apprentices and shopkeepers, and officered by aldermen. But in
the early part of the seventeenth century, there was no standing
army in the island ; and the militia of the metropolis was not
inferior in training to the militia of other places. A city which
could furnish many thousands of armed men, abounding in natural
courage, and not absolutely untinctured with military discipline,
was a formidable auxiliary in times of internal dissension. On
several occasions during the civil war, the trainbands of London
distinguished themselves highly; and at the battle of Newbury, in
particular, they repelled the fiery onset of Rupert, and saved
the army of the Parliament from destruction.

The people of this great city had long been thoroughly devoted to
the national cause. Many of them had signed a protestation in
which they declared their resolution to defend the privileges of
Parliament. Their enthusiasm had, indeed, of late begun to cool.
But the impeachment of the five members, and the insult offered
to the House of Commons, inflamed them to fury. Their houses,
their purses, their pikes, were at the command of the
representatives of the nation. London was in arms all night. The
next day the shops were closed; the streets were filled with
immense crowds; the multitude pressed round the King's coach, and
insulted him with opprobrious cries. The House of Commons, in the
meantime, appointed a committee to sit in the city, for the
purpose of inquiring into the circumstances of the late outrage.

The members of the committee were welcomed by a deputation of the
common council, Merchant Taylors' Hall, Goldsmiths' Hall, and
Grocers' Hall, were fitted up for their sittings. A guard of
respectable citizens, duly relieved twice a day, was posted at
their doors. The sheriffs were charged to watch over the safety
of the accused members, and to escort them to and from the
committee with every mark of honour.

A violent and sudden revulsion of feeling, both in the House and
out of it, was the effect of the late proceedings of the King.
The Opposition regained in a few hours all the ascendency which
it had lost. The constitutional royalists were filled with shame
and sorrow. They saw that they had been cruelly deceived by
Charles. They saw that they were, unjustly, but not unreasonably,
suspected by the nation. Clarendon distinctly says that they
perfectly detested the counsels by which the King had been
guided, and were so much displeased and dejected at the unfair
manner in which he had treated them that they were inclined to
retire from his service. During the debates on the breach of
privilege, they preserved a melancholy silence. To this day, the
advocates of Charles take care to say as little as they can about
his visit to the House of Commons, and, when they cannot avoid
mention of it, attribute to infatuation an act which, on any
other supposition, they must admit to have been a frightful

The Commons, in a few days, openly defied the King, and ordered
the accused members to attend in their places at Westminster and
to resume their parliamentary duties. The citizens resolved to
bring back the champions of liberty in triumph before the windows
of Whitehall. Vast preparations were made both by land and water
for this great festival.

The King had remained in his palace, humbled, dismayed, and
bewildered, "feeling," says Clarendon, "the trouble and agony
which usually attend generous and magnanimous minds upon their
having committed errors"; feeling, we should say, the despicable
repentance which attends the man who, having attempted to commit
a crime, finds that he has only committed a folly. The populace
hooted and shouted all day before the gates of the royal
residence. The tyrant could not bear to see the triumph of those
whom he had destined to the gallows and the quartering-block. On
the day preceding that which was fixed for their return, he fled,
with a few attendants, from that palace which he was never to see
again till he was led through it to the scaffold.

On the eleventh of January, the Thames was covered with boats,
and its shores with the gazing multitude. Armed vessels decorated
with streamers, were ranged in two lines from London Bridge to
Westminster Hall. The members returned upon the river in a ship
manned by sailors who had volunteered their services. The
trainbands of the city, under the command of the sheriffs,
marched along the Strand, attended by a vast crowd of spectators,
to guard the avenues to the House of Commons; and thus, with
shouts, and loud discharges of ordnance, the accused patriots
were brought back by the people whom they had served, and for
whom they had suffered. The restored members, as soon as they had
entered the House, expressed, in the warmest terms, their
gratitude to the citizens of London. The sheriffs were warmly
thanked by the Speaker in the name of the Commons; and orders
were given that a guard selected from the trainbands of the city,
should attend daily to watch over the safety of the Parliament.

The excitement had not been confined to London. When intelligence
of the danger to which Hampden was exposed reached
Buckinghamshire, it excited the alarm and indignation of the
people. Four thousand freeholders of that county, each of them
wearing in his hat a copy of the protestation in favour of the
Privileges of Parliament, rode up to London to defend the person
of their beloved representative. They came in a body to assure
Parliament of their full resolution to defend its privileges.
Their petition was couched in the strongest terms. "In respect,"
said they, "of that latter attempt upon the honourable House of
Commons, we are now come to offer our service to that end, and
resolved, in their just defence, to live and die."

A great struggle was clearly at hand. Hampden had returned to
Westminster much changed. His influence had hitherto been exerted
rather to restrain than to animate the zeal of his party. But the
treachery, the contempt of law, the thirst for blood, which the
King had now shown, left no hope of a peaceable adjustment. It
was clear that Charles must be either a puppet or a tyrant, that
no obligation of law or of honour could bind him, and that the
only way to make him harmless was to make him powerless.

The attack which the King had made on the five members was not
merely irregular in manner. Even if the charges had been
preferred legally, if the Grand Jury of Middlesex had found a
true bill, if the accused persons had been arrested under a
proper warrant and at a proper time and place, there would still
have been in the proceeding enough of perfidy and injustice to
vindicate the strongest measures which the Opposition could take.
To impeach Pym and Hampden was to impeach the House of Commons.
It was notoriously on account of what they had done as members of
that House that they were selected as objects of vengeance; and
in what they had done as members of that House the majority had
concurred. Most of the charges brought against them were common
between them and the Parliament. They were accused, indeed, and
it may be with reason, of encouraging the Scotch army to invade
England. In doing this, they had committed what was, in
strictness of law, a high offence, the same offence which
Devonshire and Shrewsbury committed in 1688. But the King had
promised pardon and oblivion to those who had been the principals
in the Scotch insurrection. Did it then consist with his honour
to punish the accessaries? He had bestowed marks of his favour on
the leading Covenanters. He had given the great seal of Scotland
to one chief of the rebels, a marquisate to another, an earldom
to Leslie, who had brought the Presbyterian army across the
Tweed. On what principle was Hampden to be attainted for advising
what Leslie was ennobled for doing? In a court of law, of course,
no Englishman could plead an amnesty granted to the Scots. But,
though not an illegal, it was surely an inconsistent and a most
unkingly course, after pardoning and promoting the heads of the
rebellion in one kingdom, to hang, draw, and quarter their
accomplices in another.

The proceedings of the King against the five members, or rather
against that Parliament which had concurred in almost all the
acts of the five members, was the cause of the civil war. It was
plain that either Charles or the House of Commons must be
stripped of all real power in the state. The best course which
the Commons could have taken would perhaps have been to depose
the King, as their ancestors had deposed Edward the Second and
Richard the Second, and as their children afterwards deposed
James. Had they done this, had they placed on the throne a prince
whose character and whose situation would have been a pledge for
his good conduct, they might safely have left to that prince all
the old constitutional prerogatives of the Crown, the command of
the armies of the state, the power of making peers, the power of
appointing ministers, a veto on bills passed by the two Houses.
Such prince, reigning by their choice, would have been under the
necessity of acting in conformity with their wishes. But the
public mind was not ripe for such a measure. There was no Duke of
Lancaster, no Prince of Orange, no great and eminent person, near
in blood to the throne, yet attached to the cause of the people.
Charles was then to remain King; and it was therefore necessary
that he should be king only in name. A William the Third, or a
George the First, whose title to the crown was identical with the
title of the people to their liberty, might safely be trusted
with extensive powers. But new freedom could not exist in safety
under the old tyrant. Since he was not to be deprived of the name
of king, the only course which was left was to make him a mere
trustee, nominally seised of prerogatives of which others had the
use, a Grand Lama, a Roi Faineant, a phantom resembling those
Dagoberts and Childeberts who wore the badges of royalty, while
Ebroin and Charles Martel held the real sovereignty of the state.

The conditions which the Parliament propounded were hard, but, we
are sure, not harder than those which even the Tories, in the
Convention of 1689, would have imposed on James, if it had been
resolved that James should continue to be king. The chief
condition was that the command of the militia and the conduct of
the war in Ireland should be left to the Parliament. On this
point was that great issue joined, whereof the two parties put
themselves on God and on the sword.

We think, not only that the Commons were justified in demanding
for themselves the power to dispose of the military force, but
that it would have been absolute insanity in them to leave that
force at the disposal of the King. From the very beginning of his
reign, it had evidently been his object to govern by an army. His
third Parliament had complained, in the Petition of Right, of his
fondness for martial law, and of the vexatious manner in which he
billeted his soldiers on the people. The wish nearest the heart
of Strafford was, as his letters prove, that the revenue might be
brought into such a state as would enable the King to keep a
standing military establishment. In 1640 Charles had supported an
army in the northern counties by lawless exactions. In 1641 he
had engaged in an intrigue, the object of which was to bring that
army to London for the purpose of overawing the Parliament. His
late conduct had proved that, if he were suffered to retain even
a small body-guard of his own creatures near his person, the
Commons would be in danger of outrage, perhaps of massacre. The
Houses were still deliberating under the protection of the
militia of London. Could the command of the whole armed force of
the realm have been, under these circumstances, safely confided
to the King? Would it not have been frenzy in the Parliament to
raise and pay an army of fifteen or twenty thousand men for the
Irish war, and to give to Charles the absolute control of this
army, and the power of selecting, promoting, and dismissing
officers at his pleasure? Was it not probable that this army
might become, what it is the nature of armies to become, what so
many armies formed under much more favourable circumstances have
become, what the army of the Roman republic became, what the army
of the French republic became, an instrument of despotism? Was it
not probable that the soldiers might forget that they were also
citizens, and might be ready to serve their general against their
country? Was it not certain that, on the very first day on which
Charles could venture to revoke his concessions, and to punish
his opponents, he would establish an arbitrary government, and
exact a bloody revenge?

Our own times furnish a parallel case. Suppose that a revolution
should take place in Spain, that the Constitution of Cadiz should
be reestablished, that the Cortes should meet again, that the
Spanish Prynnes and Burtons, who are now wandering in rags round
Leicester Square, should be restored to their country. Ferdinand
the Seventh would, in that case, of course repeat all the oaths
and promises which he made in 1820, and broke in 1823. But would
it not be madness in the Cortes, even if they were to leave him
the name of King, to leave him more than the name? Would not all
Europe scoff at them, if they were to permit him to assemble a
large army for an expedition to America, to model that army at
his pleasure, to put it under the command of officers chosen by
himself? Should we not say that every member of the
Constitutional party who might concur in such a measure would
most richly deserve the fate which he would probably meet, the
fate of Riego and of the Empecinado? We are not disposed to pay
compliments to Ferdinand; nor do we conceive that we pay him any
compliment, when we say that, of all sovereigns in history, he
seems to us most to resemble, in some very important points, King
Charles the First. Like Charles, he is pious after a certain
fashion; like Charles, he has made large concessions to his
people after a certain fashion. It is well for him that he has
had to deal with men who bore very little resemblance to the
English Puritans.

The Commons would have the power of the sword; the King would not
part with it; and nothing remained but to try the chances of war.
Charles still had a strong party in the country. His august
office, his dignified manners, his solemn protestations that he
would for the time to come respect the liberties of his subjects,
pity for fallen greatness, fear of violent innovation, secured to
him many adherents. He had with him the Church, the Universities,
a majority of the nobles and of the old landed gentry. The
austerity of the Puritan manners drove most of the gay and
dissolute youth of that age to the royal standard. Many good,
brave, and moderate men, who disliked his former conduct, and who
entertained doubts touching his present sincerity, espoused his
cause unwillingly and with many painful misgivings, because,
though they dreaded his tyranny much, they dreaded democratic
violence more.

On the other side was the great body of the middle orders of
England, the merchants, the shopkeepers, the yeomanry, headed by
a very large and formidable minority of the peerage and of the
landed gentry. The Earl of Essex, a man of respectable abilities,
and of some military experience, was appointed to the command of
the parliamentary army.

Hampden spared neither his fortune nor his person in the cause.
He subscribed two thousand pounds to the public service. He took
a colonel's commission in the army, and went into Buckinghamshire
to raise a regiment of infantry. His neighbours eagerly enlisted
under his command. His men were known by their green uniform, and
by their standard, which bore on one side the watchword of the
Parliament, "God with us," and on the other the device of
Hampden, "Vestigia nulla retrorsum." This motto well described
the line of conduct which he pursued. No member of his party had
been so temperate, while there remained a hope that legal and
peaceable measures might save the country. No member of his party
showed so much energy and vigour when it became necessary to
appeal to arms. He made himself thoroughly master of his military
duty, and "performed it," to use the words of Clarendon, "upon
all occasions most punctually." The regiment which he had raised
and trained was considered as one of the best in the service of
the Parliament. He exposed his person in every action with an
intrepidity which made him conspicuous even among thousands of
brave men. "He was," says Clarendon, "of a personal courage equal
to his best parts; so that he was an enemy not to be wished
wherever he might have been made a friend, and as much to be
apprehended where he was so, as any man could deserve to be."
Though his military career was short, and his military situation
subordinate, he fully proved that he possessed the talents of a
great general, as well as those of a great statesman.

We shall not attempt to give a history of the war. Lord Nugent's
account of the military operations is very animating and
striking. Our abstract would be dull, and probably
unintelligible. There was, in fact, for some time no great and
connected system of operations on either side. The war of the two
parties was like the war of Arimanes and Oromasdes, neither of
whom, according to the Eastern theologians, has any exclusive
domain, who are equally omnipresent, who equally pervade all
space, who carry on their eternal strife within every particle of
matter. There was a petty war in almost every county. A town
furnished troops to the Parliament while the manor-house of the
neighbouring peer was garrisoned for the King. The combatants
were rarely disposed to march far from their own homes. It was
reserved for Fairfax and Cromwell to terminate this desultory
warfare, by moving one overwhelming force successively against
all the scattered fragments of the royal party.

It is a remarkable circumstance that the officers who had studied
tactics in what were considered as the best schools, under Vere
in the Netherlands, and under Gustavus Adolphus in Germany,
displayed far less skill than those commanders who had been bred
to peaceful employments, and who never saw even a skirmish till
the civil war broke out. An unlearned person might hence be
inclined to suspect that the military art is no very profound
mystery, that its principles are the principles of plain good
sense, and that a quick eye, a cool head, and a stout heart, will
do more to make a general than all the diagrams of Jomini. This,
however, is certain, that Hampden showed himself a far better
officer than Essex, and Cromwell than Leslie.

The military errors of Essex were probably in some degree
produced by political timidity. He was honestly, but not warmly,
attached to the cause of the Parliament; and next to a great
defeat he dreaded a great victory. Hampden, on the other hand,
was for vigorous and decisive measures. When he drew the sword,
as Clarendon has well said, he threw away the scabbard. He had
shown that he knew better than any public man of his time how to
value and how to practise moderation. But he knew that the
essence of war is violence, and that moderation in war is
imbecility. On several occasions, particularly during the
operations in the neighbourhood of Brentford, he remonstrated
earnestly with Essex. Wherever he commanded separately, the
boldness and rapidity of his movements presented a striking
contrast to the sluggishness of his superior.

In the Parliament he possessed boundless influence. His
employments towards the close of 1642 have been described by
Denham in some lines which, though intended to be sarcastic,
convey in truth the highest eulogy. Hampden is described in this
satire as perpetually passing and repassing between the military
station at Windsor and the House of Commons at Westminster, as
overawing the general, and as giving law to that Parliament which
knew no other law. It was at this time that he organized that
celebrated association of counties to which his party was
principally indebted for its victory over the King.

In the early part of 1643, the shires lying in the neighbourhood
of London, which were devoted to the cause of the Parliament,
were incessantly annoyed by Rupert and his cavalry. Essex had
extended his lines so far that almost every point was vulnerable.
The young prince, who, though not a great general, was an active
and enterprising partisan, frequently surprised posts, burned
villages, swept away cattle, and was again at Oxford before a
force sufficient to encounter him could be assembled.

The languid proceedings of Essex were loudly condemned by the
troops. All the ardent and daring spirits in the parliamentary
party were eager to have Hampden at their head. Had his life been
prolonged, there is every reason to believe that the supreme
command would have been intrusted to him. But it was decreed
that, at this conjuncture, England should lose the only man who
united perfect disinterestedness to eminent talents, the only man
who, being capable of gaining the victory for her, was incapable
of abusing that victory when gained.

In the evening of the seventeenth of June, Rupert darted out of
Oxford with his cavalry on a predatory expedition. At three in
the morning of the following day, he attacked and dispersed a few
parliamentary soldiers who lay at Postcombe. He then flew to
Chinnor, burned the village, killed or took all the troops who
were quartered there, and prepared to hurry back with his booty
and his prisoners to Oxford.

Hampden had, on the preceding day, strongly represented to Essex
the danger to which this part of the line was exposed. As soon as
he received intelligence of Rupert's incursion, he sent off a
horseman with a message to the General. The cavaliers, he said,
could return only by Chiselhampton Bridge. A force ought to be
instantly despatched in that direction for the purpose of
intercepting them. In the meantime, he resolved to set out with
all the cavalry that he could muster, for the purpose of impeding
the march of the enemy till Essex could take measures for cutting
off their retreat. A considerable body of horse and dragoons
volunteered to follow him. He was not their commander. He did not
even belong to their branch of the service. But "he was," says
Lord Clarendon, "second to none but the General himself in the
observance and application of all men." On the field of Chalgrove
he came up with Rupert. A fierce skirmish ensued. In the first
charge Hampden was struck in the shoulder by two bullets, which
broke the bone, and lodged in his body. The troops of the
Parliament lost heart and gave way. Rupert, after pursuing them
for a short time, hastened to cross the bridge, and made his
retreat unmolested to Oxford.

Hampden, with his head drooping, and his hands leaning on his
horse's neck, moved feebly out of the battle. The mansion which
had been inhabited by his father-in-law, and from which in his
youth he had carried home his bride Elizabeth, was in sight.
There still remains an affecting tradition that he looked for a
moment towards that beloved house, and made an effort to go
thither to die. But the enemy lay in that direction. He turned
his horse towards Thame, where he arrived almost fainting with
agony. The surgeons dressed his wounds. But there was no hope.
The pain which he suffered was most excruciating. But he endured
it with admirable firmness and resignation. His first care was
for his country. He wrote from his bed several letters to London
concerning public affairs, and sent a last pressing message to
the head-quarters, recommending that the dispersed forces should
be concentrated. When his public duties were performed, he calmly
prepared himself to die. He was attended by a clergyman of the
Church of England, with whom he had lived in habits of intimacy,
and by the chaplain of the Buckinghamshire Greencoats, Dr.
Spurton, whom Baxter describes as a famous and excellent divine.

A short time before Hampden's death the sacrament was
administered to him. He declared that though he disliked the
government of the Church of England, he yet agreed with that
Church as to all essential matters of doctrine. His intellect
remained unclouded. When all was nearly over, he lay murmuring
faint prayers for himself, and for the cause in which, he died.
"Lord Jesus," he exclaimed in the moment of the last agony,
"receive my soul. O Lord, save my country. O Lord, be merciful
to--." In that broken ejaculation passed away his noble and
fearless spirit.

He was buried in the parish church of Hampden. His soldiers,
bareheaded, with reversed arms and muffled drums and colours,
escorted his body to the grave, singing, as they marched, that
lofty and melancholy psalm in which the fragility of human life
is contrasted with the immutability of Him to whom a thousand
years are as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the

The news of Hampden's death produced as great a consternation in
his party, according to Clarendon, as if their whole army had
been cut off. The journals of the time amply prove that the
Parliament and all its friends were filled with grief and dismay.
Lord Nugent has quoted a remarkable passage from the next Weekly
Intelligencer. "The loss of Colonel Hampden goeth near the heart
of every man that loves the good of his king and country, and
makes some conceive little content to be at the army now that he
is gone. The memory of this deceased colonel is such, that in no
age to come but it will more and more be had in honour and
esteem; a man so religious, and of that prudence, judgment,
temper, valour, and integrity, that he hath left few his like

He had indeed left none his like behind him. There still
remained, indeed, in his party, many acute intellects, many
eloquent tongues, many brave and honest hearts. There still
remained a rugged and clownish soldier, half fanatic, half
buffoon, whose talents, discerned as yet only by one penetrating
eye, were equal to all the highest duties of the soldier and the
prince. But in Hampden, and in Hampden alone, were united all the
qualities which, at such a crisis, were necessary to save the
state, the valour and energy of Cromwell, the discernment and
eloquence of Vane, the humanity and moderation of Manchester, the
stern integrity of Hale, the ardent public spirit of Sydney.
Others might possess the qualities which were necessary to save
the popular party in the crisis of danger; he alone had both the
power and the inclination to restrain its excesses in the hour of
triumph. Others could conquer; he alone could reconcile. A heart
as bold as his brought up the cuirassiers who turned the tide of
battle on Marston Moor. As skilful an eye as his watched the
Scotch army descending from the heights over Dunbar. But it was
when to the sullen tyranny of Laud and Charles had succeeded the
fierce conflict of sects and factions, ambitious of ascendency
and burning for revenge, it was when the vices and ignorance
which the old tyranny had generated threatened the new freedom
with destruction, that England missed the sobriety, the self-
command, the perfect soundness of judgment, the perfect rectitude
of intention, to which the history of revolutions furnishes no
parallel, or furnishes a parallel in Washington alone.

(August 1825)

Joannis Miltoni, Angli, de Doctrina Christiana libri duo
posthumi. A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, compiled from the
Holy Scriptures alone. By JOHN MILTON, translated from the
Original by Charles R. Sumner, M.A., etc., etc. 1825.

Towards the close of the year 1823, Mr. Lemon, deputy keeper of
the state papers, in the course of his researches among the
presses of his office, met with a large Latin manuscript. With it
were found corrected copies of the foreign despatches written by
Milton while he filled the office of Secretary, and several
papers relating to the Popish Trials and the Rye-house Plot. The
whole was wrapped up in an envelope, superscribed To Mr. Skinner,
Merchant. On examination, the large manuscript proved to be the
long-lost Essay on the Doctrines of Christianity, which,
according to Wood and Toland, Milton finished after the
Restoration, and deposited with Cyriac Skinner. Skinner, it is
well known, held the same political opinions with his illustrious
friend. It is therefore probable, as Mr. Lemon conjectures, that
he may have fallen under the suspicions of the Government during
that persecution of the Whigs which followed the dissolution of
the Oxford parliament, and that, in consequence of a general
seizure of his papers, this work may have been brought to the
office in which it has been found. But whatever the adventures of
the manuscript may have been, no doubt can exist that it is a
genuine relic of the great poet.

Mr. Sumner who was commanded by his Majesty to edit and translate
the treatise, has acquitted himself of his task in a manner
honourable to his talents and to his character. His version is
not indeed very easy or elegant; but it is entitled to the praise
of clearness and fidelity. His notes abound with interesting
quotations, and have the rare merit of really elucidating the
text. The preface is evidently the work of a sensible and candid
man, firm in his own religious opinions, and tolerant towards
those of others.

The book itself will not add much to the fame of Milton. It is,
like all his Latin works, well written, though not exactly in the
style of the prize essays of Oxford and Cambridge. There is no
elaborate imitation of classical antiquity, no scrupulous purity,
none of the ceremonial cleanness which characterises the diction
of our academical Pharisees. The author does not attempt to
polish and brighten his composition into the Ciceronian gloss and
brilliancy. He does not in short sacrifice sense and spirit to
pedantic refinements. The nature of his subject compelled him to
use many words

"That would have made Quintilian stare and gasp."

But he writes with as much ease and freedom as if Latin were his
mother tongue; and, where he is least happy, his failure seems to
arise from the carelessness of a native, not from the ignorance
of a foreigner. We may apply to him what Denham with great
felicity says of Cowley: "He wears the garb, but not the clothes
of the ancients."

Throughout the volume are discernible the traces of a powerful
and independent mind, emancipated from the influence of
authority, and devoted to the search of truth. Milton professes
to form his system from the Bible alone; and his digest of
scriptural texts is certainly among the best that have appeared.
But he is not always so happy in his inferences as in his

Some of the heterodox doctrines which he avows seemed to have
excited considerable amazement, particularly his Arianism, and
his theory on the subject of polygamy. Yet we can scarcely
conceive that any person could have read the Paradise Lost
without suspecting him of the former; nor do we think that any
reader, acquainted with the history of his life, ought to be much
startled at the latter. The opinions which he has expressed
respecting the nature of the Deity, the eternity of matter, and
the observation of the Sabbath, might, we think, have caused more
just surprise.

But we will not go into the discussion of these points. The book,
were it far more orthodox or far more heretical than it is, would
not much edify or corrupt the present generation. The men of our
time are not to be converted or perverted by quartos. A few more
days, and this essay will follow the Defensio Populi to the dust
and silence of the upper shelf. The name of its author, and the
remarkable circumstances attending its publication, will secure
to it a certain degree of attention. For a month or two it will
occupy a few minutes of chat in every drawing-room, and a few
columns in every magazine; and it will then, to borrow the
elegant language of the play-bills, be withdrawn to make room for
the forthcoming novelties.

We wish, however, to avail ourselves of the interest, transient
as it may be, which this work has excited. The dexterous
Capuchins never choose to preach on the life and miracles of a
saint, until they have awakened the devotional feelings of their
auditors by exhibiting some relic of him, a thread of his
garment, a lock of his hair, or a drop of his blood. On the same
principle, we intend to take advantage of the late interesting
discovery, and, while this memorial of a great and good man is
still in the hands of all, to say something of his moral and
intellectual qualities. Nor, we are convinced, will the severest
of our readers blame us if, on an occasion like the present, we
turn for a short time from the topics of the day, to commemorate,
in all love and reverence, the genius and virtues of John Milton,
the poet, the statesman, the philosopher, the glory of English
literature, the champion and the martyr of English liberty.

It is by his poetry that Milton is best known; and it is of his
poetry that we wish first to speak. By the general suffrage of
the civilised world, his place has been assigned among the
greatest masters of the art. His detractors, however, though
outvoted, have not been silenced. There are many critics, and
some of great name, who contrive in the same breath to extol the
poems and to decry the poet. The works they acknowledge,
considered in themselves, may be classed among the noblest
productions of the human mind. But they will not allow the author
to rank with those great men who, born in the infancy of
civilisation, supplied, by their own powers, the want of
instruction, and, though destitute of models themselves,
bequeathed to posterity models which defy imitation. Milton, it
is said, inherited what his predecessors created; he lived in an
enlightened age; he received a finished education, and we must
therefore, if we would form a just estimate of his powers, make
large deductions in consideration of these advantages.

We venture to say, on the contrary, paradoxical as the remark may
appear, that no poet has ever had to struggle with more
unfavourable circumstances than Milton. He doubted, as he has
himself owned, whether he had not been born "an age too late."
For this notion Johnson has thought fit to make him the butt of
much clumsy ridicule. The poet, we believe, understood the nature
of his art better than the critic. He knew that his poetical
genius derived no advantage from the civilisation which
surrounded him, or from the learning which he had acquired; and
he looked back with something like regret to the ruder age of
simple words and vivid impressions.

We think that, as civilisation advances, poetry almost
necessarily declines. Therefore, though we fervently admire those
great works of imagination which have appeared in dark ages, we
do not admire them the more because they have appeared in dark
ages. On the contrary, we hold that the most wonderful and
splendid proof of genius is a great poem produced in a civilised
age. We cannot understand why those who believe in that most
orthodox article of literary faith, that the earliest poets are
generally the best, should wonder at the rule as if it were the
exception. Surely the uniformity of the phaenomenon indicates a
corresponding uniformity in the cause.

The fact is, that common observers reason from the progress of
the experimental sciences to that of imitative arts. The
improvement of the former is gradual and slow. Ages are spent in
collecting materials, ages more in separating and combining them.
Even when a system has been formed, there is still something to
add, to alter, or to reject. Every generation enjoys the use of a
vast hoard bequeathed to it by antiquity, and transmits that
hoard, augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future ages. In these
pursuits, therefore, the first speculators lie under great
disadvantages, and, even when they fail, are entitled to praise.
Their pupils, with far inferior intellectual powers, speedily
surpass them in actual attainments. Every girl who has read Mrs.
Marcet's little dialogues on Political Economy could teach
Montague or Walpole many lessons in finance. Any intelligent man
may now, by resolutely applying himself for a few years to
mathematics, learn more than the great Newton knew after half a
century of study and meditation.

But it is not thus with music, with painting, or with sculpture.
Still less is it thus with poetry. The progress of refinement
rarely supplies these arts with better objects of imitation. It
may indeed improve the instruments which are necessary to the
mechanical operations of the musician, the sculptor, and the
painter. But language, the machine of the poet, is best fitted
for his purpose in its rudest state. Nations, like individuals,
first perceive, and then abstract. They advance from particular
images to general terms. Hence the vocabulary of an enlightened
society is philosophical, that of a half-civilised people is

This change in the language of men is partly the cause and partly
the effect of a corresponding change in the nature of their
intellectual operations, of a change by which science gains and
poetry loses. Generalisation is necessary to the advancement of
knowledge; but particularity is indispensable to the creations of
the imagination. In proportion as men know more and think more,
they look less at individuals and more at classes. They therefore
make better theories and worse poems. They give us vague phrases
instead of images, and personified qualities instead of men. They
may be better able to analyse human nature than their
predecessors. But analysis is not the business of the poet. His
office is to portray, not to dissect. He may believe in a moral
sense, like Shaftesbury; he may refer all human actions to self-
interest, like Helvetius; or he may never think about the matter
at all. His creed on such subjects will no more influence his
poetry, properly so called, than the notions which a painter may
have conceived respecting the lacrymal glands, or the circulation
of the blood will affect the tears of his Niobe, or the blushes
of his Aurora. If Shakespeare had written a book on the motives
of human actions, it is by no means certain that it would have
been a good one. It is extremely improbable that it would have
contained half so much able reasoning on the subject as is to be
found in the Fable of the Bees. But could Mandeville have created
an Iago? Well as he knew how to resolve characters into their
elements, would he have been able to combine those elements in
such a manner as to make up a man, a real, living, individual

Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry,
without a certain unsoundness of mind, if anything which gives so
much pleasure ought to be called unsoundness. By poetry we mean
not all writing in verse, nor even all good writing in verse. Our
definition excludes many metrical compositions which, on other
grounds, deserve the highest praise. By poetry we mean the art of
employing words in such a manner as to produce an illusion on the
imagination, the art of doing by means of words what the painter
does by means of colours. Thus the greatest of poets has
described it, in lines universally admired for the vigour and
felicity of their diction, and still more valuable on account of
the just notion which they convey of the art in which he

"As the imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."

These are the fruits of the "fine frenzy" which he ascribes to
the poet--a fine frenzy doubtless, but still a frenzy. Truth,
indeed, is essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness.
The reasonings are just; but the premises are false. After the
first suppositions have been made, everything ought to be
consistent; but those first suppositions require a degree of
credulity which almost amounts to a partial and temporary
derangement of the intellect. Hence of all people children are
the most imaginative. They abandon themselves without reserve to
every illusion. Every image which is strongly presented to their
mental eye produces on them the effect of reality. No man,
whatever his sensibility may be, is ever affected by Hamlet or
Lear, as a little girl is affected by the story of poor Red
Riding-hood. She knows that it is all false, that wolves cannot
speak, that there are no wolves in England. Yet in spite of her
knowledge she believes; she weeps; she trembles; she dares not go
into a dark room lest she should feel the teeth of the monster at
her throat. Such is the despotism of the imagination over
uncultivated minds.

In a rude state of society men are children with a greater
variety of ideas. It is therefore in such a state of society that
we may expect to find the poetical temperament in its highest
perfection. In an enlightened age there will be much
intelligence, much science, much philosophy, abundance of just
classification and subtle analysis, abundance of wit and
eloquence, abundance of verses, and even of good ones; but little
poetry. Men will judge and compare; but they will not create.
They will talk about the old poets, and comment on them, and to a
certain degree enjoy them. But they will scarcely be able to
conceive the effect which poetry produced on their ruder
ancestors, the agony, the ecstasy, the plenitude of belief. The
Greek Rhapsodists, according to Plato, could scarce recite Homer
without falling into convulsions. The Mohawk hardly feels the
scalping knife while he shouts his death-song. The power which
the ancient bards of Wales and Germany exercised over their
auditors seems to modern readers almost miraculous. Such feelings
are very rare in a civilised community, and most rare among those
who participate most in its improvements. They linger longest
amongst the peasantry.

Poetry produces an illusion on the eye of the mind, as a magic
lantern produces an illusion on the eye of the body. And, as the
magic lantern acts best in a dark room, poetry effects its
purpose most completely in a dark age. As the light of knowledge
breaks in upon its exhibitions, as the outlines of certainty
become more and more definite, and the shades of probability more
and more distinct, the hues and lineaments of the phantoms which
the poet calls up grow fainter and fainter. We cannot unite the
incompatible advantages of reality and deception, the clear
discernment of truth and the exquisite enjoyment of fiction.

He who, in an enlightened and literary society, aspires to he a
great poet must first become a little child, he must take to
pieces the whole web of his mind. He must unlearn much of that
knowledge which has perhaps constituted hitherto his chief title
to superiority. His very talents will be a hindrance to him. His
difficulties will be proportioned to his proficiency in the
pursuits which are fashionable among his contemporaries; and that
proficiency will in general be proportioned to the vigour and
activity of his mind. And it is well if, after all his sacrifices
and exertions, his works do not resemble a lisping man or a
modern ruin. We have seen in our own time great talents, intense
labour, and long meditation, employed in this struggle against
the spirit of the age, and employed, we will not say absolutely
in vain, but with dubious success and feeble applause.

If these reasonings be just, no poet has ever triumphed over
greater difficulties than Milton. He received a learned
education: he was a profound and elegant classical scholar: he
had studied all the mysteries of Rabbinical literature: he was
intimately acquainted with every language of modern Europe, from
which either pleasure or information was then to he derived. He
was perhaps the only great poet of later times who has been
distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse. The genius of
Petrarch was scarcely of the first order; and his poems in the
ancient language, though much praised by those who have never
read them, are wretched compositions. Cowley, with all his
admirable wit and ingenuity, had little imagination: nor indeed
do we think his classical diction comparable to that of Milton.
The authority of Johnson is against us on this point. But Johnson
had studied the bad writers of the middle ages till he had become
utterly insensible to the Augustan elegance, and was as ill
qualified to judge between two Latin styles as a habitual
drunkard to set up for a wine-taster.

Versification in a dead language is an exotic, a far-fetched,
costly, sickly, imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in
healthful and spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this
rarity flourishes are in general as ill suited to the production
of vigorous native poetry as the flower-pots of a hot-house to
the growth of oaks. That the author of the Paradise Lost should
have written the Epistle to Manso was truly wonderful. Never
before were such marked originality and such exquisite, mimicry
found together. Indeed in all the Latin poems of Milton the
artificial manner indispensable to such works is admirably
preserved, while, at the same time, his genius gives to them a
peculiar charm, an air of nobleness and freedom, which
distinguishes them from all other writings of the same class.
They remind us of the amusements of those angelic warriors who
composed the cohort of Gabriel:

"About him exercised heroic games
The unarmed youth of heaven. But o'er their heads
Celestial armoury, shields, helms, and spears
Hang high, with diamond flaming, and with gold."

We cannot look upon the sportive exercises for which the genius
of Milton ungirds itself, without catching a glimpse of the
gorgeous and terrible panoply which it is accustomed to wear. The
strength of his imagination triumphed over every obstacle. So
intense and ardent was the fire of his mind, that it not only was
not suffocated beneath the weight of fuel, but penetrated the
whole superincumbent mass with its own heat and radiance.

It is not our intention to attempt anything like a complete
examination of the poetry of Milton. The public has long been
agreed as to the merit of the most remarkable passages, the
incomparable harmony of the numbers, and the excellence of that
style, which no rival has been able to equal, and no parodist to
degrade, which displays in their highest perfection the idiomatic
powers of the English tongue, and to which every ancient and
every modern language has contributed something of grace, of
energy, or of music. In the vast field of criticism on which we
are entering, innumerable reapers have already put their sickles.
Yet the harvest is so abundant that the negligent search of a
straggling gleaner may be rewarded with a sheaf.

The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the
extreme remoteness of the associations by means of which it acts
on the reader. Its effect is produced, not so much by what it
expresses, as by what it suggests; not so much by the ideas which
it directly conveys, as by other ideas which are connected with
them. He electrifies the mind through conductors. The most
unimaginative man must understand the Iliad. Homer gives him no
choice, and requires from him no exertion, but takes the whole
upon himself, and sets the images in so clear a light, that it is
impossible to be blind to them. The works of Milton cannot be
comprehended or enjoyed, unless the mind of the reader co-operate
with that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or
play for a mere passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others
to fill up the outline. He strikes the keynote, and expects his
hearer to make out the melody.

We often hear of the magical influence of poetry. The expression
in general means nothing: but, applied to the writings of Milton,
it is most appropriate. His poetry acts like an incantation. Its
merit lies less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power.
There would seem, at first sight, to be no more in his words than
in other words. But they are words of enchantment. No sooner are
they pronounced, than the past is present and the distant near.
New forms of beauty start at once into existence, and all the
burial-places of the memory give up their dead. Change the
structure of the sentence; substitute one synonym for another,
and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power: and
he who should then hope to conjure with it would find himself as
much mistaken as Cassim in the Arabian tale, when he stood
crying, "Open Wheat," "Open Barley," to the door which obeyed no
sound but "Open Sesame." The miserable failure of Dryden in his
attempt to translate into his own diction some parts of the
Paradise Lost, is a remarkable instance of this.

In support of these observations we may remark, that scarcely any
passages in the poems of Milton are more generally known or more
frequently repeated than those which are little more than muster-
rolls of names. They are not always more appropriate or more
melodious than other names. Every one of them is the first link
in a long chain of associated ideas. Like the dwelling-place of
our infancy revisited in manhood, like the song of our country
heard in a strange land, they produce upon us an effect wholly
independent of their intrinsic value. One transports us back to a
remote period of history. Another places us among the novel
scenes avid manners of a distant region. A third evokes all the
dear classical recollections of childhood, the schoolroom, the
dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and the prize. A fourth brings
before us the splendid phantoms of chivalrous romance, the
trophied lists, the embroidered housings, the quaint devices, the
haunted forests, the enchanted gardens, the achievements of
enamoured knights, and the smiles of rescued princesses.

In none of the works of Milton is his peculiar manner more
happily displayed than in the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is
impossible to conceive that the mechanism of language can be
brought to a more exquisite degree of perfection. These poems
differ from others, as attar of roses differs from ordinary rose
water, the close packed essence from the thin diluted mixture.
They are indeed not so much poems, as collections of hints, from
each of which the reader is to make out a poem for himself. Every
epithet is a text for a stanza.

The Comus and the Samson Agonistes are works which, though of
very different merit, offer some marked points of resemblance.
Both are lyric poems in the form of plays. There are perhaps no
two kinds of composition so essentially dissimilar as the drama
and the ode. The business of the dramatist is to keep himself out
of sight, and to let nothing appear but his characters. As soon
as he attracts notice to his personal feelings, the illusion is
broken. The effect is as unpleasant as that which is produced on
the stage by the voice of a prompter or the entrance of a scene-
shifter. Hence it was, that the tragedies of Byron were his least
successful performances. They resemble those pasteboard pictures
invented by the friend of children, Mr. Newbery, in which a
single moveable head goes round twenty different bodies, so that
the same face looks out upon us successively, from the uniform of
a hussar, the furs of a judge, and the rags of a beggar. In all
the characters, patriots and tyrants, haters and lovers, the
frown and sneer of Harold were discernible in an instant. But
this species of egotism, though fatal to the drama, is the
inspiration of the ode. It is the part of the lyric poet to
abandon himself, without reserve, to his own emotions.

Between these hostile elements many great men have endeavoured to
effect an amalgamation, but never with complete success. The
Greek Drama, on the model of which the Samson was written, sprang
from the Ode. The dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, and
naturally partook of its character. The genius of the greatest of
the Athenian dramatists cooperated with the circumstances under
which tragedy made its first appearance. Aeschylus was, head and
heart, a lyric poet. In his time, the Greeks had far more
intercourse with the East than in the days of Homer; and they had
not yet acquired that immense superiority in war, in science, and
in the arts, which, in the following generation, led them to
treat the Asiatics with contempt. From the narrative of Herodotus
it should seem that they still looked up, with the veneration of
disciples, to Egypt and Assyria. At this period, accordingly, it
was natural that the literature of Greece should be tinctured
with the Oriental style. And that style, we think, is discernible
in the works of Pindar and Aeschylus. The latter often reminds us
of the Hebrew writers. The book of Job, indeed, in conduct and
diction, bears a considerable resemblance to some of his dramas.
Considered as plays, his works are absurd; considered as
choruses, they are above all praise. If, for instance, we examine
the address of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon on his return, or the
description of the seven Argive chiefs, by the principles of
dramatic writing, we shall instantly condemn them as monstrous.
But if we forget the characters, and think only of the poetry, we
shall admit that it has never been surpassed in energy and
magnificence. Sophocles made the Greek Drama as dramatic as was
consistent with its original form. His portraits of men have a
sort of similarity; but it is the similarity not of a painting,
but of a bas-relief. It suggests a resemblance; but it does not
produce an illusion. Euripides attempted to carry the reform
further. But it was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps beyond
any powers. Instead of correcting what was bad, he destroyed what
was excellent. He substituted crutches for stilts, bad sermons
for good odes.

Milton, it is well known, admired Euripides highly, much more
highly than, in our opinion, Euripides deserved. Indeed the
caresses which this partiality leads our countryman to bestow on
"sad Electra's poet," sometimes remind us of the beautiful Queen
of Fairy-land kissing the long ears of Bottom. At all events,
there can be no doubt that this veneration for the Athenian,
whether just or not, was injurious to the Samson Agonistes. Had
Milton taken Aeschylus for his model, he would have given himself
up to the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely all the
treasures of his mind, without bestowing a thought on those
dramatic proprieties which the nature of the work rendered it
impossible to preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things in
their own nature inconsistent he has failed, as every one else
must have failed. We cannot identify ourselves with the
characters, as in a good play. We cannot identify ourselves with
the poet, as in a good ode. The conflicting ingredients, like an
acid and an alkali mixed, neutralise each other. We are by no
means insensible to the merits of this celebrated piece, to the
severe dignity of the style, the graceful and pathetic solemnity
of the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric melody which
gives so striking an effect to the choral passages. But we think
it, we confess, the least successful effort of the genius of

The Comus is framed on the model of the Italian Masque, as the
Samson is framed on the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is
certainly the noblest performance of the kind which exists in any
language. It is as far superior to the Faithful Shepherdess as
the Faithful Shepherdess is to the Aminta, or the Aminta to the
Pastor Fido. It was well for Milton that he had here no Euripides
to mislead him. He understood and loved the literature of modern
Italy. But he did not feel for it the same veneration which he
entertained for the remains of Athenian and Roman poetry,
consecrated by so many lofty and endearing recollections. The
faults, moreover, of his Italian predecessors were of a kind to
which his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could stoop to a plain
style, sometimes even to a bald style; but false brilliancy was
his utter aversion. His muse had no objection to a russet attire;
but she turned with disgust from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry
and as paltry as the rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day.
Whatever ornaments she wears are of massive gold, not only
dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing the severest test
of the crucible.

Milton attended in the Comus to the distinction which he
afterwards neglected in the Samson. He made his Masque what it
ought to be, essentially lyrical, and dramatic only in
semblance. He has not attempted a fruitless struggle against a
defect inherent in the nature of that species of composition; and
he has therefore succeeded, wherever success was not impossible.
The speeches must be read as majestic soliloquies; and he who so
reads them will be enraptured with their eloquence, their
sublimity, and their music. The interruptions of the dialogue,
however, impose a constraint upon the writer, and break the
illusion of the reader. The finest passages are those which are
lyric in form as well as in spirit. "I should much commend," says
the excellent Sir Henry Wotton in a letter to Milton, "the
tragical part if the lyrical did not ravish me with a certain
Dorique delicacy in your songs and odes, whereunto, I must
plainly confess to, you, I have seen yet nothing parallel in our
language." The criticism was just. It is when Milton escapes from
the shackles of the dialogue, when he is discharged from the
labour of uniting two incongruous styles, when he is at liberty
to indulge his choral raptures without reserve, that he rises
even above himself. Then, like his own good Genius bursting from
the earthly form and weeds of Thyrsis, he stands forth in
celestial freedom and beauty; he seems to cry exultingly,

"Now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly or I can run,"

to skim the earth, to soar above the clouds, to bathe in the
Elysian dew of the rainbow, and to inhale the balmy smells of
nard and cassia, which the musky winds of the zephyr scatter
through the cedared alleys of the Hesperides.

There are several of the minor poems of Milton on which we would
willingly make a few remarks. Still more willingly would we enter
into a detailed examination of that admirable poem, the Paradise
Regained, which, strangely enough, is scarcely ever mentioned
except as an instance of the blindness of the parental affection
which men of letters bear towards the offspring of their
intellects. That Milton was mistaken in preferring this work,
excellent as it is, to the Paradise Lost, we readily admit. But
we are sure that the superiority of the Paradise Lost to the
Paradise Regained is not more decided, than the superiority of
the Paradise Regained to every poem which has since made its
appearance. Our limits, however, prevent us from discussing the
point at length. We hasten on to that extraordinary production
which the general suffrage of critics has placed in the highest
class of human compositions.

The only poem of modern times which can be compared with the
Paradise Lost is the Divine Comedy. The subject of Milton, in
some points, resembled that of Dante; but he has treated it in a
widely different manner. We cannot, we think, better illustrate
our opinion respecting our own great poet, than by contrasting
him with the father of Tuscan literature.

The poetry of Milton differs from that of Dante, as the
hieroglyphics of Egypt differed from the picture-writing of
Mexico. The images which Dante employs speak for themselves; they
stand simply for what they are. Those of Milton have a
signification which is often discernible only to the initiated.
Their value depends less on what they directly represent than on
what they remotely suggest. However strange, however grotesque,
may be the appearance which Dante undertakes to describe, he
never shrinks from describing it. He gives us the shape, the
colour, the sound, the smell, the taste; he counts the numbers;
he measures the size. His similes are the illustrations of a
traveller. Unlike those of other poets, and especially of Milton,
they are introduced in a plain, business-like manner; not for the
sake of any beauty in the objects from which they are drawn; not
for the sake of any ornament which they may impart to the poem;
but simply in order to make the meaning of the writer as clear to
the reader as it is to himself. The ruins of the precipice which
led from the sixth to the seventh circle of hell were like those
of the rock which fell into the Adige on the south of Trent. The
cataract of Phlegethon was like that of Aqua Cheta at the
monastery of St. Benedict. The place where the heretics were
confined in burning tombs resembled the vast cemetery of Arles.

Now let us compare with the exact details of Dante the dim
intimations of Milton. We will cite a few examples. The English
poet has never thought of taking the measure of Satan. He gives
us merely a vague idea of vast bulk. In one passage the, fiend
lies stretched out huge in length, floating many a rood, equal in
size to the earth-born enemies of Jove, or to the sea-monster
which the mariner mistakes for an island. When he addresses
himself to battle against the guardian angels, he stands like
Teneriffe or Atlas: his stature reaches the sky. Contrast with
these descriptions the lines in which Dante has described the
gigantic spectre of Nimrod. "His face seemed to me as long and as
broad as the ball of St. Peter's at Rome, and his other limbs
were in proportion; so that the bank, which concealed him from
the waist downwards, nevertheless showed so much of him, that
three tall Germans would in vain have attempted to reach to his
hair." We are sensible that we do no justice to the admirable
style of the Florentine poet. But Mr. Cary's translation is not
at hand; and our version, however rude, is sufficient to
illustrate our meaning.

Once more, compare the lazar-house in the eleventh book of the
Paradise Lost with the last ward of Malebolge in Dante. Milton
avoids the loathsome details, and takes refuge in indistinct but
solemn and tremendous imagery. Despair hurrying from couch to
couch to mock the wretches with his attendance, Death shaking his
dart over them, but, in spite of supplications, delaying to
strike. What says Dante? "There was such a moan there as there
would be if all the sick who, between July and September, are in
the hospitals of Valdichiana, and of the Tuscan swamps, and of
Sardinia, were in one pit together; and such a stench was issuing
forth as is wont to issue from decayed limbs."

We will not take upon ourselves the invidious office of settling
precedency between two such writers, Each in his own department
is incomparable; and each, we may remark, has wisely, or
fortunately, taken a subject adapted to exhibit his peculiar
talent to the greatest advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal
narrative. Dante is the eye-witness and ear-witness of that which
he relates. He is the very man who has heard the tormented
spirits crying out for the second death, who has read the dusky
characters on the portal within which there is no hope, who has
hidden his face from the terrors of the Gorgon, who has fled from
the hooks and the seething pitch of Barbariccia and Draghignazzo.
His own hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Lucifer. His own
feet have climbed the mountain of expiation. His own brow has
been marked by the purifying angel. The reader would throw aside
such a tale in incredulous disgust, unless it were told with the
strongest air of veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors,
with the greatest precision and multiplicity in its details. The
narrative of Milton in this respect differs from that of Dante,
as the adventures of Amadis differ from those of Gulliver. The
author of Amadis would have made his book ridiculous if he had
introduced those minute particulars which give such a charm to
the work of Swift, the nautical observations, the affected
delicacy about names, the official documents transcribed at full
length, and all the unmeaning gossip and scandal of the court,
springing out of nothing, and tending to nothing. We are not
shocked at being told that a man who lived, nobody knows when,
saw many very strange sights, and we can easily abandon ourselves
to the illusion of the romance. But when Lemuel Gulliver,
surgeon, resident at Rotherhithe, tells us of pygmies and giants,
flying islands, and philosophising horses, nothing but such
circumstantial touches could produce for a single moment a
deception on the imagination.

Of all the poets who have introduced into their works the agency
of supernatural beings, Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante
decidedly yields to him: and as this is a point on which many
rash and ill-considered judgments have been pronounced, we feel
inclined to dwell on it a little longer. The most fatal error
which a poet can possibly commit in the management of his
machinery, is that of attempting to philosophise too much. Milton
has been often censured for ascribing to spirits many functions
of which spirits must be incapable. But these objections, though
sanctioned by eminent names, originate, we venture to say, in
profound ignorance of the art of poetry.

What is spirit? What are our own minds, the portion of spirit
with which we are best acquainted? We observe certain phaenomena.
We cannot explain them into material causes. We therefore infer
that there exists something which is not material. But of this
something we have no idea. We can define it only by negatives. We
can reason about it only by symbols. We use the word; but we have
no image of the thing; and the business of poetry is with images,
and not with words. The poet uses words indeed; but they are
merely the instruments of his art, not its objects. They are the
materials which he is to dispose in such a manner as to present a
picture to the mental eye. And if they are not so disposed, they
are no more entitled to be called poetry than a bale of canvas
and a box of colours to be called a painting.

Logicians may reason about abstractions. But the great mass of
men must have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all
ages and nations to idolatry can be explained on no other
principle. The first inhabitants of Greece, there is reason to
believe, worshipped one invisible Deity. But the necessity of
having something more definite to adore produced, in a few
centuries, the innumerable crowd of Gods and Goddesses. In like
manner the ancient Persians thought it impious to exhibit the
Creator under a human form. Yet even these transferred to the Sun
the worship which, in speculation, they considered due only to
the Supreme Mind. The history of the Jews is the record of a
continued struggle between pure Theism, supported by the most
terrible sanctions, and the strangely fascinating desire of
having some visible and tangible object of adoration. Perhaps
none of the secondary causes which Gibbon has assigned for the
rapidity with which Christianity spread over the world, while
Judaism scarcely ever acquired a proselyte, operated more
powerfully than this feeling. God, the uncreated, the
incomprehensible, the invisible, attracted few worshippers. A
philosopher might admire so noble a conception; but the crowd
turned away in disgust from words which presented no image to
their minds. It was before Deity embodied in a human form,
walking among men, partaking of their infirmities, leaning on
their bosoms, weeping over their graves, slumbering in the
manger, bleeding on the cross, that the prejudices of the
Synagogue, and the doubts of the Academy, and the pride of the
Portico, and the fasces of the Lictor, and the swords of thirty
legions, were humbled in the dust. Soon after Christianity had
achieved its triumph, the principle which had assisted it began
to corrupt it. It became a new Paganism. Patron saints assumed
the offices of household gods. St. George took the place of Mars.
St. Elmo consoled the mariner for the loss of Castor and Pollux.
The Virgin Mother and Cecilia succeeded to Venus and the Muses.
The fascination of sex and loveliness was again joined to that of
celestial dignity; and the homage of chivalry was blended with
that of religion. Reformers have often made a stand against these
feelings; but never with more than apparent and partial success.
The men who demolished the images in cathedrals have not always
been able to demolish those which were enshrined in their minds.
It would not be difficult to show that in politics the same rule
holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must generally be embodied
before they can excite a strong public feeling. The multitude is
more easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, or the most
insignificant name, than for the most important principle.

From these considerations, we infer that no poet, who should
affect that metaphysical accuracy for the want of which Milton
has been blamed, would escape a disgraceful failure. Still,
however, there was another extreme which, though far less
dangerous, was also to be avoided. The imaginations of men are in
a great measure under the control of their opinions. The most
exquisite art of poetical colouring can produce no illusion, when
it is employed to represent that which is at once perceived to be
incongruous and absurd. Milton wrote in an age of philosophers
and theologians. It was necessary, therefore, for him to abstain
from giving such a shock to their understanding as might break
the charm which it was his object to throw over their
imaginations. This is the real explanation of the indistinctness
and inconsistency with which he has often been reproached. Dr.
Johnson acknowledges that it was absolutely necessary that the
spirit should be clothed with material forms. "But," says he,
"the poet should have secured the consistency of his system by
keeping immateriality out of sight, and seducing the reader to
drop it from his thoughts." This is easily said; but what if
Milton could not seduce his readers to drop immateriality from
their thoughts? What if the contrary opinion had taken so full a
possession of the minds of men as to leave no room even for the
half belief which poetry requires? Such we suspect to have been
the case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt altogether the
material or the immaterial system. He therefore took his stand on
the debatable ground. He left the whole in ambiguity. He has
doubtless, by so doing, laid himself open to the charge of
inconsistency. But, though philosophically in the wrong, we
cannot but believe that he was poetically in the right. This
task, which almost any other writer would have found
impracticable, was easy to him. The peculiar art which he
possessed of communicating his meaning circuitously through a
long succession of associated ideas, and of intimating more than
he expressed, enabled him to disguise those incongruities which
he could not avoid.

Poetry which relates to the beings of another world ought to be
at once mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of
Dante is picturesque indeed beyond any that ever was written. Its
effect approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel.
But it is picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. This is a
fault on the right side, a fault inseparable from the plan of
Dante's poem, which, as we have already observed, rendered the
utmost accuracy of description necessary. Still it is a fault.
The supernatural agents excite an interest; but it is not the
interest which is proper to supernatural agents. We feel that we
could talk to the ghosts and daemons, without any emotion of
unearthly awe. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper, and
eat heartily in their company. Dante's angels are good men with
wings. His devils are spiteful ugly executioners. His dead men
are merely living men in strange situations. The scene which
passes between the poet and Farinata is justly celebrated. Still,
Farinata in the burning tomb is exactly what Farinata would have
been at an auto da fe. Nothing can be more touching than the
first interview of Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a
lovely woman chiding, with sweet austere composure, the lover for
whose affection she is grateful, but whose vices she reprobates?
The feelings which give the passage its charm would suit the
streets of Florence as well as the summit of the Mount of

The spirits of Milton are unlike those of almost all other
writers. His fiends, in particular, are wonderful creations. They
are not metaphysical abstractions. They are not wicked men. They
are not ugly beasts. They have no horns, no tails, none of the
fee-faw-fum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just enough, in
common with human nature to be intelligible to human beings.
Their characters are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim
resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated to gigantic
dimensions, and veiled in mysterious gloom.

Perhaps the gods and daemons of Aeschylus may best bear a
comparison with the angels and devils of Milton. The style of the
Athenian had, as we have remarked, something of the Oriental
character; and the same peculiarity may be traced in his
mythology. It has nothing of the amenity and elegance which we
generally find in the superstitions of Greece. All is rugged,
barbaric, and colossal. The legends of Aeschylus seem to
harmonise less with the fragrant groves and graceful porticoes in
which his countrymen paid their vows to the God of Light and
Goddess of Desire, than with those huge and grotesque labyrinths
of eternal granite in which Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or
in which Hindustan still bows down to her seven-headed idols. His
favourite gods are those of the elder generation, the sons of
heaven and earth, compared with whom Jupiter himself was a
stripling and an upstart, the gigantic Titans, and the
inexorable Furies. Foremost among his creations of this class
stands Prometheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend of man,
the sullen and implacable enemy of Heaven. Prometheus bears
undoubtedly a considerable resemblance to the Satan of Milton. In
both we find the same impatience of control, the same ferocity,
the same unconquerable pride. In both characters also are
mingled, though in very different proportions, some kind and
generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is hardly superhuman
enough. He talks too much of his chains and his uneasy posture:
he is rather too much depressed and agitated. His resolution
seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses that he holds
the fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour of his
release will surely come. But Satan is a creature of another
sphere. The might of his intellectual nature is victorious over
the extremity of pain. Amidst agonies which cannot be conceived
without horror, he deliberates, resolves, and even exults.
Against the sword of Michael, against the thunder of Jehovah,
against the flaming lake, and the marl burning with solid fire,
against the prospect of an eternity of unintermitted misery, his
spirit bears up unbroken, resting on its own innate energies,
requiring no support from anything external, nor even from hope

To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been
attempting to draw between Milton and Dante, we would add that
the poetry of these great men has in a considerable degree taken
its character from their moral qualities. They are not egotists.
They rarely obtrude their idiosyncrasies on their readers. They
have nothing in common with those modern beggars for fame, who
extort a pittance from the compassion of the inexperienced by
exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds. Yet it would be
difficult to name two writers whose works have been more
completely, though undesignedly, coloured by their personal

The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness
of spirit, that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line
of the Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by
pride struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the
world so deeply and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante
was no fantastic caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance
of time can be judged, the effect of external circumstances. It
was from within. Neither love nor glory, neither the conflicts of
earth nor the hope of heaven could dispel it. It turned every
consolation and every pleasure into its own nature. It resembled
that noxious Sardinian soil of which the intense bitterness is
said to have been perceptible even in its honey. His mind was, in
the noble language of the Hebrew poet, "a land of darkness, as
darkness itself, and where the light was as darkness." The gloom
of his character discolours all the passions of men, and all the
face of nature, and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers of
Paradise and the glories of the eternal throne. All the portraits
of him are singularly characteristic. No person can look on the
features, noble even to ruggedness, the dark furrows of the
cheek, the haggard and woeful stare of the eye, the sullen and
contemptuous curve of the lip, and doubt that they belong to a
man too proud and too sensitive to be happy.

Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante,
he had been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived
his health and his sight, the comforts of his home, and the
prosperity of his party. Of the great men by whom he had been
distinguished at his entrance into life, some had been taken away
from the evil to come; some had carried into foreign climates
their unconquerable hatred of oppression; some were pining in
dungeons; and some had poured forth their blood on scaffolds.
Venal and licentious scribblers, with just sufficient talent to
clothe the thoughts of a pandar in the style of a bellman, were
now the favourite writers of the Sovereign and of the public. It
was a loathsome herd, which could be compared to nothing so fitly
as to the rabble of Comus, grotesque monsters, half bestial, half
human, dropping with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in
obscene dances. Amidst these that fair Muse was placed, like the
chaste lady of the Masque, lofty, spotless, and serene, to be
chattered at, and pointed at, and grinned at, by the whole rout
of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever despondency and asperity could be
excused in any man, they might have been excused in Milton. But
the strength of his mind overcame every calamity. Neither
blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic
afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor
proscription, nor neglect, had power to disturb his sedate and
majestic patience. His spirits do not seem to have been high, but
they were singularly equable. His temper was serious, perhaps
stern; but it was a temper which no sufferings could render
sullen or fretful. Such as it was when, on the eve of great
events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of health and
manly beauty, loaded with literary distinctions, and glowing with
patriotic hopes, such it continued to be when, after having
experienced every calamity which is in incident to our nature,
old, poor, sightless and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to

Hence it was that, though he wrote the Paradise Lost at a time of
life when images of beauty and tenderness are in general
beginning to fade, even from those minds in which they have not
been effaced by anxiety and disappointment, he adorned it with
all that is most lovely and delightful in the physical and in the
moral world. Neither Theocritus nor Ariosto had a finer or a more
healthful sense of the pleasantness of external objects, or loved
better to luxuriate amidst sunbeams and flowers, the songs of
nightingales, the juice of summer fruits, and the coolness of
shady fountains. His conception of love unites all the
voluptuousness of the Oriental haram, and all the gallantry of
the chivalric tournament, with all the pure and quiet affection
of an English fireside. His poetry reminds us of the miracles of
Alpine scenery. Nooks and dells, beautiful as fairyland, are
embosomed in its most rugged and gigantic elevations. The roses
and myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge of the avalanche.

Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found
in all his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the
Sonnets. Those remarkable poems have been undervalued by critics
who have not understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic
point. There is none of the ingenuity of Filicaja in the thought,
none of the hard and brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style.
They are simple but majestic records of the feelings of the poet;
as little tricked out for the public eye as his diary would have
been. A victory, an unexpected attack upon the city, a momentary
fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown out against one of
his books, a dream which for a short time restored to him that
beautiful face over which the grave had closed for ever, led him
to musings, which without effort shaped themselves into verse.
The unity of sentiment and severity of style which characterise
these little pieces remind us of the Greek Anthology, or perhaps
still more of the Collects of the English Liturgy. The noble poem
on the Massacres of Piedmont is strictly a collect in verse.

The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions
which gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they
are, almost without exception, dignified by a sobriety and
greatness of mind to which we know not where to look for a
parallel. It would, indeed, be scarcely safe to draw any decided
inferences as to the character of a writer from passages directly
egotistical. But the qualities which we have ascribed to Milton,
though perhaps most strongly marked in those parts of his works
which treat of his personal feelings, are distinguishable in
every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and poetry,
English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness.

His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of a
spirit so high and of an intellect so powerful. He lived at one
of the most memorable eras in the history of mankind, at the very
crisis of the great conflict between Oromasdes and Arimanes,
liberty and despotism, reason and prejudice. That great battle
was fought for no single generation, for no single land. The
destinies of the human race were staked on the same cast with the
freedom of the English people. Then were first proclaimed those
mighty principles which have since worked their way into the
depths of the American forests, which have roused Greece from the
slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and which, from
one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an unquenchable fire
in the hearts of the oppressed, and loosed the knees of the
oppressors with an unwonted fear.

Of those principles, then struggling for their infant existence,
Milton was the most devoted and eloquent literary champion. We
need not say how much we admire his public conduct. But we
cannot disguise from ourselves that a large portion of his
countrymen still think it unjustifiable. The civil war, indeed,
has been more discussed, and is less understood, than any event
in English history. The friends of liberty laboured under the
disadvantage of which the lion in the fable complained so
bitterly. Though they were the conquerors, their
enemies were the painters. As a body, the Roundheads had done
their utmost to decry and ruin literature; and literature was
even with them, as, in the long-run, it always is with its
enemies. The best book on their side of the question is the
charming narrative of Mrs. Hutchinson. May's History of the
Parliament is good; but it breaks off at the most interesting
crisis of the struggle. The performance of Ludlow is foolish and
violent; and most of the later writers who have espoused the same
cause, Oldmixon for instance, and Catherine Macaulay, have, to
say the least, been more distinguished by zeal than either by
candour or by skill. On the other side are the most authoritative
and the most popular historical works in our language, that of
Clarendon, and that of Hume. The former is not only ably written
and full of valuable information, but has also an air of dignity
and sincerity which makes even the prejudices and errors with
which it abounds respectable. Hume, from whose fascinating
narrative the great mass of the reading public are still
contented to take their opinions, hated religion so much that he
hated liberty for having been allied with religion, and has
pleaded the cause of tyranny with the dexterity of an advocate,
while affecting the impartiality of a judge.

The public conduct of Milton must be approved or condemned
according as the resistance of the people to Charles the First
shall appear to be justifiable or criminal. We shall therefore
make no apology for dedicating a few pages to the discussion of
that interesting and most important question. We shall not argue
it on general grounds. We shall not recur to those primary
principles from which the claim of any government to the
obedience of its subjects is to be deduced. We are entitled to
that vantage ground; but we will relinquish it. We are, on this
point, so confident of superiority, that we are not unwilling to
imitate the ostentatious generosity of those ancient knights, who
vowed to joust without helmet or shield against all enemies, and
to give their antagonists the advantage of sun and wind. We will
take the naked constitutional question. We confidently affirm,
that every reason which can be urged in favour of the Revolution
of 1688 may be urged with at least equal force in favour of what
is called the Great Rebellion.

In one respect, only, we think, can the warmest admirers of
Charles venture to say that he was a better sovereign than his
son. He was not, in name and profession, a Papist; we say in name
and profession, because both Charles himself and his creature
Laud, while they abjured the innocent badges of Popery, retained
all its worst vices, a complete subjection of reason to
authority, a weak preference of form to substance, a childish
passion for mummeries, an idolatrous veneration for the priestly
character, and, above all, a merciless intolerance. This,
however, we waive. We will concede that Charles was a good
Protestant; but we say that his Protestantism does not make the
slightest distinction between his case and that of James.

The principles of the Revolution have often been grossly
misrepresented, and never more than in the course of the present
year. There is a certain class of men, who, while they profess to
hold in reverence the great names and great actions of former
times, never look at them for any other purpose than in order to
find in them some excuse for existing abuses. In every venerable
precedent they pass by what is essential, and take only what is
accidental: they keep out of sight what is beneficial, and hold
up to public imitation all that is defective. If, in any part of
any great example, there be any thing unsound, these flesh-flies
detect it with an unerring instinct, and dart upon it with a
ravenous delight. If some good end has been attained in spite of
them, they feel, with their prototype, that

"Their labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil."

To the blessings which England has derived from the Revolution
these people are utterly insensible. The expulsion of a tyrant,
the solemn recognition of popular rights, liberty, security,
toleration, all go for nothing with them. One sect there was,
which, from unfortunate temporary causes, it was thought
necessary to keep under close restraint. One part of the empire
there was so unhappily circumstanced, that at that time its
misery was necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to our
freedom. These are the parts of the Revolution which the
politicians of whom we speak love to contemplate, and which seem
to them not indeed to vindicate, but in some degree to palliate,
the good which it has produced. Talk to them of Naples, of Spain,
or of South America. They stand forth zealots for the doctrine of
Divine Right which has now come back to us, like a thief from
transportation, under the alias of Legitimacy. But mention the
miseries of Ireland. Then William is a hero. Then Somers and
Shrewsbury are great men. Then the Revolution is a glorious era.
The very same persons, who, in this country never omit an
opportunity of reviving every wretched Jacobite slander
respecting the Whigs of that period, have no sooner crossed St.
George's Channel, than they begin to fill their bumpers to the
glorious and immortal memory. They may truly boast that they look
not at men, but at measures. So that evil be done, they care not
who does it; the arbitrary Charles, or the liberal William,
Ferdinand the Catholic, or Frederic the Protestant. On such
occasions their deadliest opponents may reckon upon their candid
construction. The bold assertions of these people have of late
impressed a large portion of the public with an opinion that
James the Second was expelled simply because he was a Catholic,
and that the Revolution was essentially a Protestant Revolution.

But this certainly was not the case; nor can any person who has
acquired more knowledge of the history of those times than is to
be found in Goldsmith's Abridgement believe that, if James had
held his own religious opinions without wishing to make
proselytes, or if, wishing even to make proselytes, he had
contented himself with exerting only his constitutional influence
for that purpose, the Prince of Orange would ever have been
invited over. Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own meaning;
and, if we may believe them, their hostility was primarily not to
popery, but to tyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant because
he was a Catholic; but they excluded Catholics from the crown,
because they thought them likely to be tyrants. The ground on
which they, in their famous resolution, declared the throne
vacant, was this, "that James had broken the fundamental laws of
the kingdom." Every man, therefore, who approves of the
Revolution of 1688 must hold that the breach of fundamental laws
on the part of the sovereign justifies resistance. The question,
then, is this. Had Charles the First broken the fundamental laws
of England?

No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit,
not merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his
opponents, but to the narratives of the warmest Royalists, and to
the confessions of the King himself. If there be any truth in any
historian of any party, who has related the events of that reign,
the conduct of Charles, from his accession to the meeting of the
Long Parliament, had been a continued course of oppression and
treachery. Let those who applaud the Revolution and condemn the
Rebellion, mention one act of James the Second to which a
parallel is not to be found in the history of his father. Let
them lay their fingers on a single article in the Declaration of
Right, presented by the two Houses to William and Mary, which
Charles is not acknowledged to have violated. He had, according
to the testimony of his own friends, usurped the functions of the
legislature, raised taxes without the consent of parliament, and
quartered troops on the people in the most illegal and vexatious
manner. Not a single session of parliament had passed without
some unconstitutional attack on the freedom of debate; the right
of petition was grossly violated; arbitrary judgments, exorbitant
fines, and unwarranted imprisonments were grievances of daily
occurrence. If these things do not justify resistance, the
Revolution was treason; if they do, the Great Rebellion was

But it is said, why not adopt milder measures? Why, after the
King had consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many
oppressive prerogatives, did the Parliament continue to rise in
their demands at the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-
money had been given up. The Star-Chamber had been abolished.
Provision had been made for the frequent convocation and secure
deliberation of parliaments. Why not pursue an end confessedly
good by peaceable and regular means? We recur again to the
analogy of the Revolution. Why was James driven from the throne?
Why was he not retained upon conditions? He too had offered to
call a free parliament and to submit to its decision all the
matters in dispute. Yet we are in the habit of praising our
forefathers, who preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a
dynasty of strangers, twenty years of foreign and intestine war,
a standing army, and a national debt, to the rule, however
restricted, of a tried and proved tyrant. The Long Parliament
acted on the same principle, and is entitled to the same praise.
They could not trust the King. He had no doubt passed salutary
laws; but what assurance was there that he would not break them?
He had renounced oppressive prerogatives but where was the
security that he would not resume them? The nation had to deal
with a man whom no tie could bind, a man who made and broke
promises with equal facility, a man whose honour had been a
hundred times pawned, and never redeemed.

Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands on still stronger ground
than the Convention of 1688. No action of James can be compared
to the conduct of Charles with respect to the Petition of Right.
The Lords and Commons present him with a bill in which the
constitutional limits of his power are marked out. He hesitates;
he evades; at last he bargains to give his assent for five
subsidies. The bill receives his solemn assent; the subsidies are
voted; but no sooner is the tyrant relieved, than he returns at
once to all the arbitrary measures which he had bound himself to
abandon, and violates all the clauses of the very Act which he
had been paid to pass.

For more than ten years the people had seen the rights which were
theirs by a double claim, by immemorial inheritance and by recent
purchase, infringed by the perfidious king who had recognised
them. At length circumstances compelled Charles to summon another
parliament: another chance was given to our fathers: were they to
throw it away as they had thrown away the former? Were they again
to be cozened by le Roi le veut? Were they again to advance their
money on pledges which had been forfeited over and over again?
Were they to lay a second Petition of Right at the foot of the
throne, to grant another lavish aid in exchange for another
unmeaning ceremony, and then to take their departure, till, after
ten years more of fraud and oppression, their prince should again
require a supply, and again repay it with a perjury? They were
compelled to choose whether they would trust a tyrant or conquer
him. We think that they chose wisely and nobly.

The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors
against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline
all controversy about the facts, and content themselves with
calling testimony to character. He had so many private virtues!
And had James the Second no private virtues? Was Oliver Cromwell,
his bitterest enemies themselves being judges, destitute of
private virtues? And what, after all, are the virtues ascribed to
Charles? A religious zeal, not more sincere than that of his son,
and fully as weak and narrow-minded, and a few of the ordinary
household decencies which half the tombstones in England claim
for those who lie beneath them. A good father! A good husband!
Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of persecution, tyranny,
and falsehood!

We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are
told that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given
up his people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed
and hard-hearted of prelates; and the defence is, that he took his
little son on his knee and kissed him! We censure him for having
violated the articles of the Petition of Right, after having, for
good and valuable consideration, promised to observe them; and we
are informed that he was accustomed to hear prayers at six
o'clock in the morning! It is to such considerations as these,
together with his Vandyck dress, his handsome face, and his
peaked beard, that he owes, we verily believe, most of his
popularity with the present generation.

For ourselves, we own that we do not understand the common
phrase, a good man, but a bad king. We can as easily conceive a
good man and an unnatural father, or a good man and a treacherous
friend. We cannot, in estimating the character of an individual,
leave out of our consideration his conduct in the most important
of all human relations; and if in that relation we find him to
have been selfish, cruel, and deceitful, we shall take the
liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of all his temperance at
table, and all his regularity at chapel.

We cannot refrain from adding a few words respecting a topic on
which the defenders of Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they
say, he governed his people ill, he at least governed them after
the example of his predecessors. If he violated their privileges,
it was because those privileges had not been accurately defined.
No act of oppression has ever been imputed to him which has not a
parallel in the annals of the Tudors. This point Hume has
laboured, with an art which is as discreditable in a historical
work as it would be admirable in a forensic address. The answer
is short, clear, and decisive. Charles had assented to the
Petition of Right. He had renounced the oppressive powers said to
have been exercised by his predecessors, and he had renounced
them for money. He was not entitled to set up his antiquated
claims against his own recent release.

These arguments are so obvious, that it may seem superfluous to
dwell upon them. But those who have observed how much the events
of that time are misrepresented and misunderstood will not blame
us for stating the case simply. It is a case of which the
simplest statement is the strongest.

The enemies of the Parliament, indeed, rarely choose to take
issue on the great points of the question. They content
themselves with exposing some of the crimes and follies to which
public commotions necessarily give birth. They bewail the
unmerited fate of Strafford. They execrate the lawless violence
of the army. They laugh at the Scriptural names of the preachers.
Major-generals fleecing their districts; soldiers revelling on
the spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enriched by the
public plunder, taking possession of the hospitable firesides and
hereditary trees of the old gentry; boys smashing
the beautiful windows of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked through
the market-place; Fifth-monarchy-men shouting for King Jesus;
agitators lecturing from the tops of tubs on the fate of Agag;--
all these, they tell us, were the offspring of the Great

Be it so. We are not careful to answer in this matter. These
charges, were they infinitely more important, would not alter our

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest