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And spake the truth of thee on glorious themes
Fairfax, whose name in arms through Europe rings,
In the Revelations, an angel offers incense with the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar. Ch. viii. 4. See also Spenser, F. Q^i. x. 51. Of Mercy.
Thou doest the praiers of the righteous feed
Present before the maiestie divine.
14. Anddrink thy fill os pure immortal streams.] So in the Epitaph. Damon, V. 206.
Æthereos haurit latiecs, et gaudia potat
The allusion is to the waters of life, and more particularly to Ps. xxxvi. 8, 9. "Thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy plea"surcs, for with thee is the well of life." On this scriptural idea, which is enlarged with the decorations of Italian fancy, Milton seems to have founded his feast of the angels, Parad. L. B. V. 632. Where they "quaff immortality and Joy, &c."
* For obvious political reasons this Sonnet, the two following, and the twenty second, were not inserted in the edition 1673. They were first printed at the end of Philips's Life of Milton prefixed to the English version of his public Letters, 1694. They are quoted by Toland in his Life of Milton, 1698. Tonson omitted them in his editions of 1695, 1705. But, growing less offensive by time, they appear in his edition of 1713. The Cambridge manuscript happily corrects many of their vitiated readings. They were the favourites of the republicans long after the restoration: it was some consolation to an exterminated party, to have such good poetry remaining on their side of the question. These four Sonnets, being frequently transcribed, or repeated from memory, became extremely incorrect: their faults were implicitly preserved by Tonson, and afterwards continued without examination by Tickell and Fenton.
And all her jealous monarchs with amaze And rumours loud, that daunt remotest kings, Thy firm unshaken virtue ever brings 5
Victory home, though new rebellions raise Their Hydra heads, and the false North displays Her broken league to imp their serpent wings.
4. —— Daunt remotest kings,,] Who dreaded the example of England, "that their monarchies would be turned into republics. Milton, under the Emmet, has admirably described the sort of men of which a republic was to consist, Pa Rad. L. B. vii. 484. First crept
The Parsimonious Emmet, provident
Pattern of just equality, perhaps
Hereafter, joined in her popular tribes
7. Their Hydra heads, and the false north displays
Her broken league to imp their serpent-wings.\ Euripides, Milton's favourite, is the only writer of antiquity that has given wings to the monster Hydra. Ion, v. 198. "riTANON vvgipAurtr." The word riTANON is controverted. But here perhaps is Milton's authority for the common reading.
8. To imp their serpent-wings.'] In falconry, to imp a feather
in a hawk's wing, is to add a new piece to a mutilated stump. From the Saxon impan, to ingraft. So Spenser, of a headless trunk, F. Qj n. iz. 4.
And having Vmpt the head to it agayne.
To Imp wings is not uncommon in our old poetry. Spenser, Htiux
Op Heavenly Beautie.
Thence gathering plumes of perfect speculation,
Fletcher, Pvrpl. Isl. C. i. 24.
■ Imping their flaggie wings
Shakespeare, Rich. ii. A. ii. S. i.
Imp out our drooping country's broken wing. Where Mr. Stcevens produce; other instances. It occurs also in poet* much later than Milton.
And Dunbar field resounds thy praises loud, And Worcester's laureat wreath. Yet much remains To conquer still; peace hath her victories 10 No less renow'd than war: new foes arise Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains: Help us to save free conscience from the paw Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.
9. And Worcester's laureat wreath.—] This hcmillic originally stood,
And twenty battles more.
Such are often our first thoughts in a fine passage.
14. Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.~\ Hence it appears that this Sonnet was written about May, 1652.
By hireling wolves, he means the presbyterian clergy, who possessed the revenues of the parochial benefices on the old constitution, and whose conformity he supposes to be founded altogether on motives of emolument. See Note on Lycidas, V. I 14. There was now no end of innovation and reformation. In 1649, it was proposed in parliament to abolifli Tythes, as Jewish and antichriitian, and as they were authorised only by the ceremonial law of Moses, which was abrogated by the gospel. But as the proposal tended to endanger layimpropriations, the notion of their Divine Right was allowed to have some weight, and rbe business was postponed. This was an argument in which Sclden had abused his great learning. Milton's party were of opinion, that as every parish should elect, so it should respectively sustain, its own minister by public contribution. Others proposed to throw the tythes of the whole kingdom into one common stock, and to distribute them according to the size of the parishes. Some of the Independents urged, that Christ's ministers should have no settled property at all, but be like the apostles who were sent out to preach without staff or scrip, without common necessaries; to whom Christ said, Lacked ye any thing? A succession of miracles was therefore to be worked, to prevent the saints from starving. See Baxter's Life, p. 115. Kennet's Case Of Impropriations, p. 268. Walker's Sufferings, p. 36. Thurloe's State Pap. vol. ii. 687.
Milton's praise of Cromwell may be thought inconsistent with that zeal which he professed for liberty: for Cromwell's assumption of the Protectorate, even if we allow the lawfulness of the Rebellion, was palpably a violent usurpation of power over the rights of the nation, and was reprobated even by the republican party. Milton, however, in
Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old,
various parts of the Defensio Secunda, gives excellent admonitions to Cromwell, and with great spirit, freedom, and eloquence, not to abuse his new authority. Yet not without an intermixture of the grossest adulation. J am of opinion, that he is writing a panegyric to the memory of Cromwell and his deliverance, instead of reflecting on the recent blessings of the restoration, in a chorus in Samson Aconistes, v. 1268.
Oh how comely it is, and how reviving,
To the spirits of Just men Lonc Oppress'd:
When God into the hands of their Deliverer
Puts Invincible might
To quell the Michty of the earth, th' Oppressor,
The brute, and boisterous force of Violent men
Hardy and industrious to support
Tyrannick power, but raging to pursue
The Righteous, and all such as honour Truth;
He all their ammunition
And feats of war defeats,
With PLAIN HEROIC MAGNITUDE of MIND
And celestial vigour arm'd,
Their armories and magazines contemns, &c.
1. Vane, young in ye.in, but in sage counsel old, &c] Sir Henry Vane the younger was the chief of the independents, and therefore Milton's friend. He was the contriver of the Solemn League and Covenant. He was an eccentric character, in an age of eccentric characters. In religion the molt fantastic of all enthusiasts, and a weak writer, he was a judicious and sagacious politician. The warmth of his zeal never milled his public measures. He was a knight-errant in every thing but affairs of state. The sagacious bishop Burnet in vain attempted to penetrate the darkness of his creed. He held, that the devils and the damned would be saved. He believed himself the person delegated by God, to reign over the saints upon earth for a thousand years. His principles founded a sect called the Vanists. On the whole, no single man ever exhibited such a medley of fanaticism and dissimulation, solid abilities and visionary delusions, good fense and madness. In the pamphlets of that age he is called sir Humorous Vanity. He was beheaded in 1662. On the Scaffold, he compared
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