« AnteriorContinuar »
“ claim no personal share, yet I can easily defend
myself from a charge of timidity or indolence, “ should any such be alledged against me; for I “ have avoided the toil and danger of a military life “ only to render my country assistance more use“ ful, and not less to my own peril, exerting a “ mind never dejected in adversity, never influenc" ed by unworthy terrors of detraction or of death; “ since from my infancy I had been addicted to li
terary pursuits, and was stronger in mind than “ in body, declining the duties of a camp, in which
every muscular common man must have furpaflo ed 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 controveriy; 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 favourite associate of his early studies. On his arrival in England, the bitterness of such a loss was felt with
redoubled fenfibility 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 pre-eminent in that species of composition.
Many poets have lamented a friend of their youth, and a companion of their studies, but no one has surpassed the affecting tenderness with which Milton speaks of his lost Diodati.
Quis mihi fidus Hærebit lateri comes, ut tu fæpe folebas, Frigoribus duris, et per loca fceta pruinis, Aut rapido sub fole, siti morientibus herbis ?
Pectora cui credam ? Quis me lenire docebit
Aut æstate, dies medio dum vertitur axe,
Who now my pains and perils shall divide
In whom shall I confide, whose counsel find
Or whose discourse with innocent delight
Or who, when summer suns their summit reach,
With the spirit of a man most able to feel, and most
Vix fibi 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 posfessed in the sincerity and fervour of his religion. He closes his lamentation for his favourite 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 with a sublime 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 facrifice favourite pursuits that promised great glory, pursuits in which acknowledged genius had qualified an ambitious fpirit to excel; if to facrifice 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 facrificed 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 understanding, animated by a fervent, steady, and laudable desire to enlighten mankind, and to render them more virtuous and happy.
In the year 1640, when Milton returned to England, the current of popular opinion ran with great vehemence against episcopacy. He was prepared to catch the spirit of the time, and to become an'advocate for ecclesiastical reformation, by having peculiar and domestic grounds of complaint against
religious oppression. His favourite preceptor had been reduced to exile, and his father disinherited, by intolerance and superstition. He wrote, therefore, with the indignant enthusiasm of a man resenting the injuries of those, who are most entitled to his love and veneration. The ardoồr of his affections confpired with the warmth of his fancy to enflame him with that puritanical zeal, which blazes so intensely in his controversial productions: no less than four of these were published within two years after his return; and he thus speaks of the motives, that led him to this species of composition, in his Second Defence.
“ Being * animated by this universal outcry against the bishops, as I perceived that men were
* Ut primum loquendi faltem cæpta eft libertas concedi, omnia in episcopos aperiri ora; alii de ipsorum vitiis, alii de ipfius ordinis vitio conqueri - Ad hæc sane experrectus, cum veram affectari viam ad libertatem cernerem, ab his initiis, his paflibus, ad liberandam servitute vitam omnem mortalium re&tisfime procedi, fi ab religione disciplina orta, ad mores & inftituta reipublicæ emanaret, cum etiam me ita ab adolescentia parâffem, ut quid divini quid humani esset juris, ante omnia poffem non ignorare, meque consuluissem ecquando ullius usus effem futurus, fi nunc patriæ, immo vero ecclefiæ totque fratribus evangelii causâ periculo sese objicientibus deeffem, ftatui, etsi tunc alia quædam meditabar, huc omne ingenium, omnes industriæ vires transferre. Primum itaque de reformande ecclefia Anglicana, duos ad amicum quendam libros confcripfi; deinde, cum duo præ cæteris magni nominis episcopi suum jus contra ministros quofdam primarios affererent, ratus de iis rebus, quas amore folo veritatis, & ex officii christiani ratione didiceram, haud pejus me dicturum quam qui de fuo quæstu & injustiflimo dominatu con.