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body, declining the duties of a camp, in which every muscular common man must have surpassed me, I devoted myself to that kind of service for which I had the greatest ability, that, with the better portion of myself, I might add all the weight I could to the pleas of my country and to this most excellent cause."
He thus justifies, on the noblest ground the line of life he pursued. In the same composition he frankly states the motives, which prompted him to execute each particular work that raised him to notice in his new field of controversy; but before we attend to the order, in which he treated various public questions, that he considered of high moment to his country, it is just to observe his fidelity and tenderness in first discharging, as a poet, the duties of private friendship.
Before he quitted Florence, Milton received intelligence of the loss he had to sustain, by the untimely death of Charles Diodati, the favorite associate of his early studies. On his arrival in England, the bitternessofsuchalosswasfelt with redoubled sensibility by his affectionate heart, which relieved and gratified itself by commemorating the engaging character of the deceased in a poem of considerable length, entitled, Epitaphium Damonis, a poem mentioned by Johnson with supercilious contempt, yet possessing such beauties as render it preeminent in that species of composition.
Many poets have lamented a friend of their youth, and a companion of theirstudies, but no one has surpassed the affecting tenderness with which Milton speaks of his lost Diodati.
Quis mihi fidus
Haerebit later! comes, ut tu saepe solebas,
Peetora cui credam? Quis me lenire docebit
Aut aestate, dies medio dum vertitur axe,
Who now my pains and perils shall divide,
In whom shall I confide, whose counsel find
Or who, when summer suns their summit reach,
With the spirit of a man most able to feel and most worthy to enjoy, the delights of true friendship, he describes the rarity of that inestimable blessing, and the anguish we suffer from the untimely loss of it.
Vix sibi quisque parem de millibus invenit unum;
.(Scarce one in thousands meets a kindred mind;
There is, indeed, but one effectual lenitive for wounds of this nature,which Milton happily possessed in the sincerity and fervor of his religion. He closes his lamentation for his favorite friend, as he had closed his Lycidas, with just and soothing reflections on the purity of life, by which the object of his regret was distinguished, and withasublime conception of that celestial beatitude, which he confidently regarded as the infallible and immediate recompence of departed virtue.
Having paid what was due to friendship in his poetical capacity, he devoted his pen to public affairs, and entered on that career of controversy, which estranged him so long, and carried him so far from those milder and more engaging studies, that nature and education had made the darlings of his mind. If to sacrifice favorite pursuits in which acknowledged genius had qualified an ambitious spirit to excel; if to sacrifice these to irksome disputes, from a sense of what he owed to the exigencies of his country; if such conduct deserve, as it assuredly does, the name of public virtue, it may be as difficult, perhaps, to find an equal to Milton in genuine patriotism, as in poetical power; for who can be said to have sacrificed so much, or to have shewn a firmer affection to the public good? If he mistook the mode of promoting it; if his sentiments both on ecclesiastical and civil policy, are such as the majority of our countrymen think it just and wise to reject, let us give him the credit he deserves for the merit of his intention; let us respect, as we ought to do, the probity of an exalted un