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THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND,
IN ANSWER TO
SALMASIUS'S DEFENCE OF THE KING.*
EDITOR'S PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
So much has already been written on the history and character of this great work, that it would be altogether superfluous to travel again over the same ground. Milton's editors and biographers have displayed much zeal in excusing or palliating the faults into which he was betrayed by the vehemence of his own temper, and the spirit of his age. I shall not follow theimexample. Salmasius, no doubt, transgressed all the bounds of courtesy and decorum, in his attack upon the public of England; and it was generally, in those times, considered part of a man's duty, when engaged in any important controversy, to blacken and vilify his adversary to the utmost extent of his capacity; but of a man so great and wise as Milton, better things might have been expected. He yielded, however, to the influence of example, and to the temptations of the subject; and in defending the people of this country for the most extraordinary action recorded in their annals, condescended to chastise a pedantic sophist in a manner altogether unsuited to his own dignity.
In spite of these imperfections, "The Defence of the People of England" is a work of extraordinary merit, full of learning and eloquence, and pervaded throughout by an ardent love of liberty, which diffuses a charm over investigations and discussions otherwise far from interesting. No other English writer, not even Algernon Sydney himself, pleads so warmly the cause of freedom. Living in revolutionary times, and breathing a republican atmosphere, all Milton's feelings and sympathies went with the people. The pride of genius rose in him against the pride of kings, and made him rejoice in being their antagonist. He, accordingly, does not apply himself languidly to refute the sophistries and fallacies put forward by the advocates of despotism, but enters the lists with passion and vehemence, and a fiery indignation, which seems absolutely to consume the arguments of his opponents like stubble. Hobbs, fond of giving utterance to epigrammatic remarks, observed of Milton and Salmasius, that he knew not whose style was the better, or whose arguments the worse; and this absurd saying is still repeated with complacency by several writers. But whoever will be at the pains to read his own "Behemoth," may discover examples of much worse reasoning than the Leyden professor himself employs. Had the philosopher of Malmsbury ventured to enter the lists against Milton, he would speedily have found how much easier it is to vent a sarcasm than to wield a political argument. Milton would utterly have confounded his cold logic, and routed and annihilated all the resources of his sophistry. This translation of the author's "Defensio pro Populo Anglicano" Mr. Toland ascribes to Mr. Washington, a gentleman of the Temple.
It is greatly to be regretted that "The Defence of the People of England" should have been written in Latin; for though Washington's translation be faithful and vigorous, it can never be accepted as an adequate expression of Milton's ideas. Translation in the language of the present day would be more popular, because it would employ the technical political terms to which we are accustomed, and, in this way, render the force of the reasoning more apparent. But whoever has patience to penetrate beneath the surface, and be delighted with ideas rather than words, will find equal pleasure and instruction in the study of the Defence, more especially at the present day, when opinions like those of Milton are making the circuit of Europe, and agitating the whole fabric of society.
Dr. Symmonds, in his Life of Milton, suggests a comparison between Salmasius and Burke, and observes that the angry declamations of the latter against the French Republic strongly resembled in spirit, if not in form, the outpourings of the former against the Commonwealth of England. But France produced no Milton to refute Burke; and "The 'Reflections on the French Revolution" have therefore descended to us with the reputation of being unanswerable, because they happen to have been left unanswered. Besides, in the midst of much that is intemperate, false, and deformed by prejudice, we meet with passages full of wisdom and true eloquence. But Burke, in spite of his errors and exaggerated apprehensions, was a statesman-a character to which Salmasius could make no pretensions; all his studies being those of a mere scholar intent on illustrating antiquity, and apparently destitute of the slightest sympathy for the great social and political movements of his own times. Milton, on the contrary, was a politician, learned indeed, but desirous of rendering his learning conducive to the interest of his country. While his adversary's work, therefore, is contemptuously consigned to oblivion, his will be more and more read in proportion as the nations of Christendom become more and more extensively impregnated by the spirit of liberty. The personalities, and other faults of the work, we can forgive; for though we cannot but feel them to be impediments in the way of our just appreciation of the reasoning, we must at the same time perceive and acknowledge that they are only trifling blemishes in a performance replete with excellence, and breathing throughout the purest love of truth, and solicitude to promote the happiness of mankind.
Of all Milton's editors, Toland seems most fully to appreciate the character of his prose writings. Living near his own period, acquainted with his widow, his daughter, and his nephews, and sharing the traditional veneration which appears to have survived among his friends, he may almost be said to have inherited Milton's own spirit in politics. Accordingly his Life of the poet, though written on false principles, since he thought it beneath him to record many minute particulars which we should have been too happy to know, possesses much of that charm which we seek to express by the word originality. His ideas of the popularity of the Defence are exaggerated, since he predicts for it the same universal diffusion as is enjoyed by the writings of the Greeks and Romans.
Throughout the 18th century, Milton's religious and political opinions were completely out of vogue; but now, at length, the people of Europe seem disposed to accept freedom conjointly with religion, having ap
parently made the discovery that it is not to be enjoyed separately; Milton's Defence may once more, therefore, hope to be read, especially as there is a growing disposition among us to pay attention to our own literature, and do tardy justice to those great writers who have done most towards rendering our language illustrious.
ALTHOUGH I fear, lest, if in defending the people of England, I should be as copious in words, and empty of matter, as most men think Salmasius has been in his defence of the king, I might seem to deserve justly to be accounted a verbose and silly defender; yet since no man thinks himself obliged to make so much haste, though in the handling but of any ordinary subject, as not to premise some introduction at least, according as the weight of the subject requires; if I take the same course in handling almost the greatest subject that ever was (without being too tedious in it) I am in hopes of attaining two things, which indeed I earnestly desire: the one, not to be at all wanting, as far as in me lies, to this most noble cause and most worthy to be recorded to all future ages: the other, that I may appear to have myself avoided that frivolousness of matter, and redundancy of words, which I blame in my antagonist. For I am about to discourse of matters neither inconsiderable nor common, but how a most potent king, after he had trampled upon the laws of the nation, and given a shock to its religion, and began to rule at his own will and pleasure, was at last subdued in the field by his own subjects, who had undergone a long slavery under him; how afterwards he was cast into prison, and when he gave no ground, either by words or actions, to hope better things of him, was finally by the supreme council of the kingdom condemned to die, and beheaded before the very gates of the royal palace. I shall likewise relate (which will much conduce to the easing men's minds of a great superstition) by what right, especially according to our law, this judgment was given, and all these matters transacted; and shall easily defend my valiant and worthy countrymen (who have extremely well deserved of all subjects and nations in the world) from the most wicked
calumnies both of domestic and foreign railers, and especially from the reproaches of this most vain and empty sophist, who sets up for a captain and ringleader to all the rest. For what king's majesty sitting upon an exalted throne, ever shone so brightly, as that of the people of England then did, when, shaking off that old superstition, which had prevailed a long time, they gave judgment upon the king himself, or rather upon an enemy who had been their king, caught as it were in a net by his own laws, (who alone of all mortals challenged to himself impunity by a divine right,) and scrupled not to inflict the same punishment upon him, being guilty, which he would have inflicted upon any other? But why do I mention these things as performed by the people, which almost open their voice themselves, and testify the presence of God throughout? who, as often as it seems good to his infinite wisdom, uses to throw down proud and unruly kings, exalting themselves above the condition of human nature, and utterly to extirpate them and all their family. By his manifest impulse being set at work to recover our almost lost liberty, following him as our guide, and adoring the impresses of his divine power manifested upon all occasions, we went on in no obscure, but an illustrious passage, pointed out and made plain to us by God himself. Which things, if I should so much as hope by any diligence or ability of mine, such as it is, to discourse of as I ought to do, and to commit them so to writing, as that perhaps all nations and all ages may read them, it would be a very vain thing in me. For what style can be august and magnificent enough, what man has ability sufficient to undertake so great a task? Since we find by experience, that in so many ages as are gone over the world, there has been but here and there a man found, who has been able worthily to recount the actions of great heroes, and potent states; can any man have so good an opinion of his own talents, as to think himself capable of reaching these glorious and wonderful works of Almighty God, by any language, by any style of his? Which enterprise, though some of the most eminent persons in our common wealth have prevailed upon me by their authority to undertake, and would have it be my business to vindicate
with my pen against envy and calumny (which are proof against arms) those glorious performances of theirs, (whose opinion of me I take as a very great honour, that they should pitch upon me before others to be serviceable in this kind of those most valiant deliverers of my native country; and true it is, that from my very youth, I have been bent extremely upon such sort of studies, as inclined me, if not to do great things myself, at least to celebrate those that did,) yet as having no confidence in any such advantages, I have recourse to the divine assistance; and invoke the great and holy God, the giver of all good gifts, that I may as substantially, and as truly, discourse and refute the sauciness and lies of this foreign declaimer, as our noble generals piously and successfully by force of arms broke the king's pride, and his unruly domineering, and afterwards put an end to both by inflicting a memorable punishment upon himself, and as thoroughly as a single person* did with ease but of late confute and confound the king himself, rising as it were from the grave, and recommending himself to the people in a book published after his death, with new artifices and allurements of words and expressions. Which antagonist of mine, though he be a foreigner, and, though he deny it a thousand times over, but a poor grammarian; yet not contented with a salary due to him in that capacity, chose to turn a pragmatical coxcomb, and not only to intrude in stateaffairs, but into the affairs of a foreign state: though he brings along with him neither modesty, nor understanding, nor any other qualification requisite in so great an arbitrator, but sauciness, and a little grammar only. Indeed if he had published here, and in English, the same things as he has now wrote in Latin, such as it is, I think no man would have thought it worth while to return an answer to them, but would partly despise them as common, and exploded over and over already, and partly abhor them as sordid and tyrannical maxims, not to be endured even by
This "single person" was Milton himself, who, in his Eikonoclastes, completely refuted all the maudlin sophistry contained in the Eikon Basilike, which, whether the work of Charles I. or not, may be said to represent very correctly the feelings and arguments prevalent at the period among the Cavaliers.-ED.