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sion of sentiment, and the inner affections of the mind, preferred to all others, was accordingly written in the mother tongue; but the latter, aiming at the perhaps more difficult achievement of convincing foreign nations and kings, that the senate and people of England, had, in the late transaction, not overstepped the strict bounds of justice, was of necessity composed in Latin, then the language of public business throughout Europe, and employed by the republic in all its negotiations with foreign states. This inconvenience, therefore, was not at the time to be avoided; but since a wholly different taste in literature has been generated, in spite of the classic labours of our universities, Milton's most finished and finest reasoned prose composition has fallen into a still more utter neglect, if I may hazard the solecism, than that in which his other works have, with one exception, been buried.
But, as may easily be supposed, the support of this proposition, though mainly his object, does not hinder the consideration of other important truths. He was too wise to make himself the slave of his subject. From time to time, therefore, as he pauses to enable the reader to take breath-for he required none himself-other subordinate questions are introduced and discussed pleasantly; or, perhaps, Salmasius, then esteemed a giant in literature, is, for sport-sake, tossed round the ring on the horns of his merciless dilemas. His mirth Dr. Johnson found to be grim and terrible. It is, in fact, the mirth of a man laughing at the downfal of arrogance and presumption-the mirth of the just at beholding the wicked caught in their own snares-the mirth which, by a daring licence of speech, the Psalmist attributes to the Almighty, whom he introduces rejoicing over the calamities of wrong doers, and saying, “ I will laugh when their fear cometh."
However, there are occasions on which Milton really unbends, and laughs heartily with the reader. Some expressions, also, are found scattered up and down the work, at which Phocion himself would have smiled, though, as I shall presently remark, sound taste must wholly condemn the employment of them in such a treatise. But the distinguishing characteristic of these productions is the spirit of religion and humanity which throughout pervades them. He would inspire in all men the deepest reverence for God their Father, and for each other that brotherly love, forbearance, charity, recommended by the precepts and example of Christ. Strife, tumult, contention, civil war, he overwhelms with abhorrence, inferior only to that which he pours upon tyranny, the parent of all the worst evils that afflict society. Properly to serve God, or perform his duties towards mortals, he maintains that man must be free to follow the dictates of his will, which is no other than reason in activity; for the slave, that is the subject of an absolute monarch, can never maintain that steadfast, unswerving perseverance in well-doing, which religion and civil wisdom require.
The faults into which, during these political controversies, Milton was precipitated by the vehemence of his passions, are precisely those which most easily beset ardent-tempered men. Demosthenes, contending against Philip and his hired advocates, thinks no excess of vituperation too violent, no term of abuse too big for the mouth of his anger and Milton, with equal genius, but inferior art, wields the same thunder, and with no less daring casts it in the astonished faces of all who oppose him. But he sometimes, as I have already hinted, exercises his power unskilfully. Hence, it must be admitted-for I love truth still more than I love Milton-his language is in many places coarse and offensive, such as I read with pain, and sincerely wish away-that our great, and, save in this, almost perfect author, might be everything the twin-brother of Shakespeare in genius should be. But the reader will excuse my being brief on this subject; for I uncover the imperfections of Milton tremblingly and reverently, as I would those of a parent. His genius deeply partook of the prophetic character; and it is not for me who have been soothed and strengthened from my childhood by the divine music of his verse, to come forward, and in the words I have learned of him, to babble of those failings from which no mortal is free.
From what has been said above may be inferred what were the prevailing opinions of Milton's age. Philosophy, ceasing to be speculative, applied itself to public business; and sought, by seizing the helm of government, to steer the ship of the commonwealth in the direction most agreeable to the wishes of all wise and good men. The records of ancient and modern times were ransacked, in the hope of discovering hints for the improvement of society. Principles favourable to toleration were gradually established. gion, greatly purified from the errors of the Roman church, began powerfully to influence the politics of the country, to operate a reform in manners, to raise and purify the character of its votaries. For the first time, perhaps, since the age of the apostles, Christianity was put in practice on a grand scale, by high-minded disinterested men, who sought in earnest to lay the foundations of an evangelical commonwealth, modelled in harmony with the precepts of the gospel, such as no other age or country ever yet aimed at. The Puritans, in fact, were genuine Christians, the most perfect, perhaps, that, with the failings inherent in human nature, we can ever expect to see on earth. They united with the sincerest piety, and the fervent belief of all truth, a martial temper more stern and unbending than chivalry and knighthood ever inspired. Their courage was indomitable. Wise in council, adventurous and enthusiastic in the field, they were precisely the soldiers a great general would choose with which to subdue the world.
In the midst of this effervescence of the Christian spirit, bold philosophers and sophists arose, startling mankind with the novelty, or evil tendency of their doctrines. Bacon had already made open
war on the barren systems of the schools; and while Europe was still admiring the grandeur and comprehensiveness of his views, Hobbes of Malmesbury appeared on the philosophical arena, armed with genius, and the subtlest spirit of sophistry, and prepared, in defiance of all who might oppose, to support the wildest and most dangerous paradoxes. Harrington, Algernon Sidney, Andrew Marvel, Clarendon, and many others destined to obtain a name in history, laboured contemporaneously with Milton; and their ideas failed not to exercise a certain influence over the public mind, though, whether considered with reference to their own or to future ages, this influence was much less powerful than that of the great epic poet.
Hitherto, however, Milton has been since his own times chiefly influential as a poet; his prose works having, as I observed above, been from that time to this comparatively neglected. Several of the accidental causes of this neglect have already been glanced at: they must now be more fully explained. By some ingenious writers the circumstance has been sought to be accounted for by alleging the elevated character of the works themselves. But this is unsatisfactory, for which of them is more lofty than Paradise Lost? Besides, were this the true cause, all attempts at recommending them to the public must prove fruitless, since their tone can never be lowered, nor can the intellect of the generality ever be raised to the relish of compositions, which, according to this supposition, are to be considered above the mental reach even of literary men. Indeed, the theory of this writer would, if true, wholly exculpate us as a nation from all blame for laying them aside, and betaking ourselves to writers more on a level with our capacities; for, by what rule are we compelled to purchase and study the works of any man, if they be above our comprehension ?
If there be any culpability, it must, under this supposition, rest with the author, who, if he desired to be read, and promote the cause of religion and virtue-as most assuredly he did- should have reflected that it was his first duty not so to clothe his thoughts in the splendour and brightness of eloquence, as to render them, like the sun, too painful to be gazed on by any not gifted with the eyes of eagles. No one knew better than he that the greatest men have by art contrived to indue their most hidden thoughts with a transparent dress. He was familiar with those dialogues in which the abstrusest doctrines of ontology, the highest speculations on God and nature, and the spiritual essence of the mind, to which man's intellect has ever soared, are rendered not merely comprehensible, but absolute matter of amusement. He would have been aware, therefore, that though his ideas rise far indeed above the pitch of ordinary contemplation, they yet strayed not beyond the reach of such understandings as God has bestowed upon Englishmen.
Another fancy of the same writers is, that Milton having been a
teacher, and the world, like a mitching schoolboy, not delighting to be taught, his fit audience must always be few. I hope better things or the world. For whoever is desirous of learning what is truth-and the number actuated by this holy desire is not small-is fit to be the auditor of him who teaches truth. And, to speak honestly, I have not yet learned to think so meanly of my countrymen, as not to believe that this island contains many myriads to whom truth, both in politics and religion, is precious as life itself. Let them only know in what secret or remote shrine it may be found, and the road thither, I am persuaded, will be immediately trodden by the feet of innumerable pilgrims, full of hope, of courage to dare, of fortitude to suffer, of perseverance to obtain. Englishmen are still Englishmen. The love of freedom-which is based on truth-- is ever their ruling passion; and if, as in the case of Milton, they sometimes wholly or in part neglect their benefactors, and those who best would serve them, it is error, not ingratitude, or a sullen aversion to be taught whatever is for their good.
Every man who ably and honestly advocates the cause of freedom and good government is popular in England. For, naturally and of necessity, the people's sympaties are linked to those who prove themselves their friends, who labour to diminish their burdens, and diffuse among them a just and wholesome relish for knowledge; to provide civil and religious instruction for their children, and elevate them to that mental condition in which they may, with safety to themselves, and to the state, exercise all the rights of freemen. For services of this kind the present generation is indebted to many distinguished commoners and lords, who daily, in the senate or at popular assemblies, urge forward the work of reformation.
But, among those who most honourably distinguish themselves in the service of the people, advocating the cause which Milton advocated, and diffusing far and wide the principles that inflamed his mind, and rendered him eloquent above all who have written in English, the gentlemen who conduct the better part of the public press deserve most of the country. What the pulpit is in religion, that is the press in civil affairs. It is the weapon by the use of which liberty must ultimately stand or fall, with which she must hew down those stubborn prejudices that, at every step, obstruct her movements; and, by inspiring a salutary terror in her opponents, command the leisure necessary for building up that vast edifice of political wisdom, within which she may for the future entrench herself.
And, in spite of much hostility and many untoward circumstances, how powerful is the influence of the press, and how all but complete the freedom we even now enjoy in England! Here only, within the limits of the Old World, is it lawful to express an honest opinion, or to arraign, when truth requires it, the im
policy, or improvidence, or lukewarmness of our rulers. Here only, when oppressed or persecuted at home, can the liberal and virtuous of other nations find a secure refuge. This is the place where, as at Athens in old times, men of all countries, of all parties, of all religions, take sanctuary when they need it. And the glory of England, which, in Milton's days, was thought to be enhanced by the crowding hither of strangers from distant countries, to be instructed in our learning and theological arts, is rendered doubly bright now, by the pilgrimage which all free and noble spirits, that spurn the universal yoke of the Continent, make daily to this favoured land.
And what but our freedom-though still far from perfect—and the virtues which grow out of it, causes the English name to be everywhere held in honour, and renders it a passport and a safeguard, as I have myself experienced, even among savages in rebellion against their native prince? to be associated as far as known--and where is it not ?—with highmindedness, generosity, and the pride that scorns whatever is mean and ungentlemanly? In every land whither Providence has led me, I have enjoyed the inexpressible satisfaction of hearing the name of my country pronounced with respect; of finding that, though excelled, perhaps, by one country in this, by another in that, England was universally supposed to surpass all in freedom, public virtue, religion, and those advantages of political strength and grandeur unrelinquishably possessed by the inheritors of those virtues.
To return, however, whence I have thus insensibly digressed, to the causes which have hitherto obstructed the popularity of Milton's prose works: it may be proper briefly to notice the reason assigned by D'Israeli; namely, that having been written for the times in which the author lived, they naturally went, with the times, out of date. By the same reasoning, and with much greater probability, the contemporaries of Demosthenes or Cicero might have concluded that the speeches of those great orators would sink with the succeeding age into oblivion; yet we find, after the lapse, in one case, of more than two thousand years, mankind still taking a lively interest in those compositions, while such as desire to exercise in their own day a similar influence, dwell on their polished and irresistible logic with rapture. This reason, therefore, unless we admit extraordinary inferiority in Milton, is still more unsatisfactory than either of the former. Other causes must be sought, and history is at hand to supply them.
It has been shown that, in all his works, Milton stands forth the advocate of popular principles of government; and these principles having, at the Restoration, been abandoned both by the people and the aristocracy, who returned like animals devoid of reason to their old servitude under the Stuarts, no one felt disposed to take up books every sentence of which must have awakened pangs of