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Never was a savage insult more completely avenged; for Milton, having discovered that More was unquestionably the publisher of the work, considered him as its author, which, according to legal maxims, he had a right to do, and in return exposed, with such severity of reproof, the irregular and licentious life of his adversary, that, losing his popularity as a preacher, he seems to have been overwhelmed with public contempt.
There is a circumstance hitherto unnoticed in this controversy, that may be considered as a proof of Milton's independent and inflexible spirit. More having heard accidentally, from an acquaintance of the English author, that he was preparing to expose him as the editor of the scurrilous work he had published, contrived to make great interest in England, first, to prevent the appearance, and again, to soften the personal severity of Milton's Second Defence. The Dutch ambassador endeavoured to prevail on Cromwell to suppress the work. When he found that this was impossible, he conveyed to Milton the letters of More, containing a protestation that he was not the author of the invective, which had given so much offence; the ambassador at the same time made it his particular request to Milton, that, in answering the book, as far as it related to the English government, he would abstain from all hostility against More.—Milton replied, “ that no unbecoming words should “ proceed from his pen ;” but his principles would not allow him to spare, at any private intercession, a public enemy of his country. These particulars are collected from the last of our author's political treatises in Latin, the de
fence of himself, and they form, I trust, a favourable introduction to a refutation, which it is time to begin, of the feverest and most plausible charge, that the recent enemies of Milton have urged against him ; I mean the charge of servility and adulation, as the sycophant of an usurper.
I will state the charge in the words of his most-bitter accuser, and without abridgment, that it may appear in its full force :
“ Cromwell (says Johnson) had now dismissed the par“ liament, by the authority of which he had destroyed mo“ narchy, and commenced monarch himself under the title “ of protector, but with kingly, and more than kingly,
power.—That his authority was lawful never was pre“ tended; he himself founded his right only in necessity : “ but Milton, having now tafted the honey of public em
ployment, would not return to hunger and philosophy, " but, continuing to exercise his office under a manifest “ usurpation, betrayed to his power that liberty which he “ had defended. Nothing can be more just than that ". rebellion should end in slavery; that he who had justified “ the murder of the king for some acts, which to him “ seemed unlawful, should now fell his services and his “ flatteries to a tyrant, of whom it was evident that he could “ do nothing lawful.” Let us observe, for the honour of Milton, that the
paragraph, in which he is arraigned with so much rancour, contains a political dogma, that, if it were really true, might blast the glory of all the illustrious characters who are particularly endeared to every English heart. If nothing can be
more just than that rebellion should end in slavery, why do we revere those ancestors, who contended against kings ? why do we not resign the privileges that we owe to their repeated rebellion ? but the dogma is utterly unworthy of an English moralist; for assuredly we have the fanction of truth, reason, and experience, in saying, that rebellion is morally criminal or meritorious, according to the provocation by which it is excited, and the end it pursues. This doctrine was supported even by a servant of the imperious Elizabeth. « Sir Thomas Smith” (says Milton in his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates) "-protestant and a statesman, in his Commonwealth of “ England, putting the question, whether it be lawful
to rise against a tyrant, answers, that the vulgar judge of " it according to the event, and the learned according to “ the purpose of them that do it.” Dr. Johnson, though one of the learned, here shews not that candour which the liberal statesman had described as the characteristic of their judgment. The biographer, uttering himself political tenets of the most servile complexion, accuses Milton of servility; and, in his mode of using the words honey and hunger, falls into a petulant 'meanness of expression, that too clearly discovers how cordially he detested him. But perhaps this detestation was the mere effect of political prejudice, the common but unchristian abhorrence that a vehement royalist thinks it virtue to harbour and to manifest against a republican. We might indeed easily believe that Johnson's rancour against Milton was merely political, had he not appeared as the biographer of another illustrious republican; but when we find him representing as honour
able in Blake the very principles and conduct which he endeavours to make infamous and contemptible in Milton, can we fail to observe, that he renders not the same justice to the heart of the great republican author which he had nobly rendered to the gallant admiral of the republic. To Blake he generously assigns the praise of intrepidity, honesty, contempt of wealth, and love of his country. Assuredly these virtues were asíeminent in Milton-and however different their lines in life may appear, the celebrated speech of Blake to his seamen, “ It is our business to hinder foreigners from fooling us,” by which he justified his continuance in his poft under Cromwell, is fingularly applicable to Milton, who, as a servant engaged by the state to conduct in Latin its foreign correspondence, might think himself as strongly bound in duty and honour as the justly applauded admiral, to hinder his country from being “ fooled by foreigners.” “ But Milton,” says his uncandid biographer, “continuing to exercise his office under a mani“ fest usurpation, betrayed to his power that liberty which “ he had defended.” Was the usurpation more manifest to Milton than to Blake? Or is it a deeper crime against liberty to write the Latin dispatches, than to fight the naval battles of a nation under the controul of an usurper ? Assuredly not: nor had either Blake or Milton the least intention of betraying that liberty, which was equally the darling idol of their elevated and congenial spirits ; but in finding the learned and eloquent biographer of these two immortal worthies so friendly to the admiral, and so ini
mical to the author, have we not reason to lament and reprove such inconsistent hostility.
That the Latin secretary of the nation deserved not this bitterness of cenfure for remaining in his office
be thought fufficiently proved by the example of Blake.—If his conduct in this article required farther justification, we might recollect with the candid bishop Newton, that the blameless Sir Matthew Hale, the favourite model of integrity, exercised under Cromwell the higher office of a judge; but the heaviest charge against Milton is yet unanswered, the charge of lavishing the most servile adulation on the usurper.
In replying to this most plausible accusation, let me be indulged in a few remarks, that may vindicate the credit not only of a single poet but of all Parnassus. The poetical fraternity have been often accused of being ever ready to flatter ; but the general charge is in some measure inconfistent with a knowledge of human nature. As poets, generally speaking, have more sensibility and lefs prudence than other men, we should naturally expect to find them rather distinguished by abundance than by a want of sincerity ; when they are candidly judged, they will generally be found fo; a poet indeed is as apt to applaud a hero as a lover is to praise his mistress, and both, according to the forcible and true expression of Shakespear,
“ Are of imagination all compact."