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prose works of Milton, where, in the midst of much that is coarse and intemperate, passages
of such redeeming beauty occur, should be in the hands of so few readers, considering the advantages which might be derived to our literature from the study of their original and nervous elo
The prejudice which has existed against Milton's prose works, on account of his republican and dissenting principles, fully accounts for their having been so little known; but it is hoped that such feelings are rapidly subsiding, if they are not as yet become quite extinct. On this subject, the highly respectable writer just quoted says, in the same preface:
“ But in happier times, when it is less difficult to make allowance for the effervescence caused by the heat of conflicting politics, and when the judgment is no longer influenced by the animosities of party, the taste of the age may be safely and profitably recalled to those treatises of Mil
* Preface to Treatise of Christian Doctrine.
TON, which were not written to serve a temporary purpose.”
Correct as were these remarks eight years since, the writer considers them to be much more applicable to the present time, when the principles of civil and religious liberty which Milton SO powerfully advocated, have been approved by a majority of our legislature, obtained the sanction of so large a portion of our united empire, and produced such an astonishing reform in our representative body.
The unceremonious manner in which Milton has treated the episcopal bench will probably be disliked by some readers, as unnecessarily severe, and extremely uncourteous. Let such persons, however, recollect the unconstitutional and persecuting practices of Laud and some of his brethren in the Star-chamber, and their servile compliances in supporting arbitrary power in Charles I., and they may perhaps be inclined to moderate their censures, if not to change their opinion.
As to the determined efforts of Milton to prevail with the Parliament to abolish tithes, and to leave the established clergy to depend for support upon the voluntary contributions of their respective parishioners, his reasoning has a better prospect of being regarded at the present than at any former period since his treatises were published. It
may probably too give weight to his recommendations, that his remarks applied to Presbyterian, and not to Episcopal “hirelings.” His objection was to the system of tithes, because he considered it directly opposed to the genius of Christianity, and as being injurious to the spiritual interests of the nation.
An earnest desire that the religious and political sentiments of Milton should be justly appreciated, led the writer to undertake this work; and also that his Christian integrity, manifested under all the changes through which he passed from 1640 to 1674, on account of the extraordinary revolutions of that period, should be held up as an example worthy of universal imitation. It will however be found, that the veneration which he entertains for the character of Milton, has not led him to overlook his faults, nor to palliate his errors.
Another reason which prevailed with the writer was, that the Lives of Milton have usually been so large and expensive, that they have been placed out of the reach of the generality of readers; he therefore hopes that a small volume, comprising every thing of importance respecting this noble-minded and gigantic man, will not be unacceptable nor unprofitable to the bulk of his countrymen.
The writer cannot anticipate that the sentiments stated in his work will be universally acceptable; but if they be approved by that large body of Britons who contend for liberty as their birthright, and especially by Protestant Dissenters, it is as much as he can expect. It is a little singular, that no writer of the latter class has ever published the life of this early and powerful defender of their principles, notwithstanding it is to his powerful advocacy that they are indebted, more than to any other writer, for all the civil
and religious privileges which they now enjoy. From his Memoirs having been written by Churchmen, who must have necessarily disapproved of his opinions, it is not wonderful that he should have been charged with employing
coarse and intemperate, “ rude and insulting language.” Let the reader however recollect the period at which his treatises were written, when polemics were not remarkably nice in their selection of epithets; and let him consider too the extreme importance of the subjects of which they treatthe welfare of the church of Christ, and the deliverance of the nation from civil and religious tyranny—and he may probably be inclined to judge more favourably of the strong and caustic terms which he has sometimes employed for the purpose of satirizing and exposing gross impositions and oppressive corruptions. His blunt and biting style exposed him to great opposition and reproach; but he evidently indulged self-gratulation, from the reflection that he had always accustomed himself to what he called “ this just and honest manner of speaking.” The following beautiful description of Truth is a specimen :