« AnteriorContinuar »
engaged in any publication till the year 1659, excepting a political manuscript of Sir Walter Raleigh, called the Cabinet Council, which he printed in 1658, with a brief advertisement. What his fentiments were concerning the last years of Cromwell, and the following distracted period, we have á striking proof in one of his private letters, written not long after the death of the protector. In reply to his foreign friend Oldenburg (he says) * “ I am very far from preparing a history of our commotions, as you seem to advise, for they are more worthy of filence than of panegyric; nor do we want a person with ability to frame an history of our troubles, but to give those troubles a happy termination; for I sympathise with you in the fear, that the enemies of our liberty and our religion, who are recently combined, may find us too much exposed to their attack in these our civil diffentions, or rather our fits of frenzy; they cannot, however, wound our religion more than we have done ourselves by our own enormities.” The interest of religion appears on every occasion to have maintained its due ascendency in the mind of Milton, and to have formed, through the whole
* Ab historia noftrorum motuum concinnanda, quod hortari videris, longe absum; funt enim filentio digniores quam præconio : nec nobis qui motuum hiftoriam concinnare, fed qui motus ipfos componere feliciter poffit est opus ; tecum enim ve
ne libertatis ac religionis hostibus nunc nuper societatis, nimis opportuni inter has noftras civiles discordias vel potius insanias, videamur ; verum non illi gravius quam nofmetipfi jamdiu flagitiis noftris religioni vulnus intulerint.Profe Works, vol. 2. p. 595.
course of his life, the primary object of his pursuit; it led him to publish, in 1659, two distinct treatises, the first on civil power in ecclefiaftical causes; the second, on the likeliest means to remove hirelings out of the church ; performances which Johnson prefumes to characterize by an expression not very confonant to the spirit of Christianity, representing them as written merely to gratify the author's malevolence to the clergy; a coarse reproach, which every bigot bestows upon enlightened solicitude for the purity of religion, and particularly uncandid in the present case, because the devout author has confcientiously explained his own motives in the following expressions, addressed to the long parliament restored after the decease of Cromwell.
“ Of civil liberty I have written heretofore by the appointment, and not without the approbation, of civil power; of Christian liberty I write now, which others long fince having done with all freedom under heathen emperors, I should do wrong to suspect that I now shall with less under Christian governors, and such especially as profess openly their defence of Christian liberty ; although I write this not otherways appointed or induced than by an inward persuasion of the Christian duty, which I may usefully discharge herein to the common Lord and Master of us all, and the certain hope of his approbation, first and chiefest to be fought.” Milton was not a being of that common and reptile class, who assume an affected devotion as the mask of malignity. In addressing his fecond treatise also to the Parliament, he describes
himself as a man under the protection of the legis-
Had he been conscious of any base servility to Cromwell, he would certainly have abstained from this manly assertion of his own patriotic integrity, which, in that case, would have been only ridiculous and contemptible. His opinions might be erroneous, and his ardent mind over heated; but no man ever maintained, with more steadiness and resolution, the native dignity of an elevated spirit, no man more sedulously endeavoured to discharge his duty both to earth and heaven.
In February 1659, he published The ready and easy way to establish a Free Commonwealth, a work not approved even by republican writers: I will only make one observation upon it: the motto to this performance seems to display the just opinion that Milton entertained concerning the tyranny of Cromwell.
me'en we have given Counsel to Sylla— to the people now;
a very happy allusion to the noble but neglected advice which he bestowed on the Protector.
Amidst the various political distractions towards the end of the year 1659, he addressed a letter to a nameless friend, who had conversed with him the
preceding evening on the dangerous ruptures of the commonwealth.
This letter and a brief paper, containing a sketch of a commonwealth, addressed to general Monk, were, soon after the author's death communicated by his nephew to Toland, who imparted them to the public.
Milton gave yet another proof of his unwearied attention to public affairs, by publishing brief notes on a sermon preached by Dr. Griffith, at Mercer's Chapel, March 25th, 1660, " wherein (says the an“ notator) many notorious wrestings of scripture, " and other falsities, are observed.”
When the repeated protestations of Monk to support the republic had ended in his introduction of the king, the anxious friends of Milton, who thought the literary champion of the parliament might be exposed to revenge from the triumphant royalists, hurried him into concealment. The folicitude of those who watched over his fafety was so great, that, it is said, they deceived his enemies by a report of his death, and effectually prevented a search for his person (during the first tumultuary and vindictive rage of the royalists) by a pretended funeral. A few weeks before the restoration (probably in April) he quitted his house in Westminster, and did not appear in public again till after the act of oblivion, which passed on the 29th of August. In this important interval fome events occurred, which greatly affected both his security and reputation. The House of Commons, on the 16th of June, manifested their resentment against his person as well as his writings, by ordering the atiorney general to
commence a prosecution against him, and petitioning the king, that his two books, the Defence of the People, and his Answer to Eikon Basilike, might be publicly burnt.
Happily for the honour of England, the person of the great author was more fortunate than his writings in escaping from the fury of persecution. Within three days after the burning of his books, he found himself relieved from the necessity of concealment, and sheltered under the common protection of the law by the general act of indemnity, which had not included his name in the list of exceptions. It has been thought wonderful by many, that a writer, whose celebrated compositions had rendered him an object of abhorrence to the royal party, could elude the activity of their triumphant revenge, and various conjectures have been started to account for the safety of Milton, after his enemies had too plainly discovered an inclination to crush him. One of these conjectural causes of his escape represents two contemporary poets in fo amiable a light, that though I am unable to confirm the anecdote entirely by any new evidence, I shall yet dwell upon it with pleasure. Richardson, whose affectionate veneration for the genius and virtue he celebrates makes ample amends for all the quaintness of his style, has the following passage on the subject in question :
“ Perplexed and inquisitive as I was, I at length “ found the secret, which he from whom I had it
thought he had communicated to me long ago, " and wondered he had not.
I will no longer L