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Title: Milton's Tercentenary - An address delivered before the Modern Language Club of - Yale University on Milton's Three Hundredth Birthday.
Author: Beers, Henry A. (Henry Augustin), 1847-1926
Language: English
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MILTON'S

TERCENTENARY


  An address delivered before the Modern
  Language Club of Yale University
  on Milton's Three Hundredth
  Birthday.


By

HENRY A. BEERS



NEW HAVEN

Yale University Press

1910



MILTON'S TERCENTENARY


It is right that this anniversary should be kept in all
English-speaking lands.  Milton is as far away from us in time as Dante
was from him; destructive criticism has been busy with his great poem;
formidable rivals of his fame have arisen--Dryden and Pope, Wordsworth
and Byron, Tennyson and Browning, not to speak of lesser names--poets
whom we read perhaps oftener and with more pleasure.  Yet still his
throne remains unshaken.  By general--by well-nigh universal--consent,
he is still the second poet of our race, the greatest, save one, of all
who have used the English speech.

The high epics, the Iliad, the Divine Comedy, do not appear to us as
they appeared to their contemporaries, nor as they appeared to the
Middle Ages or to the men of the Renaissance or of the eighteenth
century.  These peaks of song we see foreshortened or in changed
perspective or from a different angle of observation.  Their parallax
varies from age to age, yet their stature does not dwindle; they tower
forever, "like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved."  _Paradise Lost_ does not
mean the same thing to us that it meant to Addison or Johnson or
Macaulay, and much that those critics said of it now seems mistaken.
Works of art, as of nature, have perishable elements, and suffer a loss
from time's transhifting.  Homer's gods are childish, Dante's hell
grotesque; and the mythology of the one and the scholasticism of the
other are scarcely more obsolete to-day than Milton's theology.  Yet in
the dryest parts of _Paradise Lost_ we feel the touch of the master.
Two things in particular, the rhythm and the style, go on victoriously
as by their own momentum.  God the Father may be a school divine and
Adam a member of Parliament, but the verse never flags, the diction
never fails.  The poem may grow heavy, but not languid, thin or weak.
I confess that there are traits of Milton which repel or irritate; that
there are poets with whom sympathy is easier.  And if I were speaking
merely as an impressionist, I might prefer them to him.  But this does
not affect my estimate of his absolute greatness.

All poets, then, and lovers of poetry, all literary critics and
students of language must honor in Milton the almost faultless artist,
the supreme master of his craft.  But there is a reason why, not alone
the literary class, but all men of English stock should celebrate
Milton's tercentenary.  There have been poets whose technique was
exquisite, but whose character was contemptible.  John Milton was not
simply a great poet, but a great man, a heroic soul; and his type was
characteristically English, both in its virtues and its shortcomings.
Of Shakspere, the man, we know next to nothing.  But of Milton
personally we know all that we need to know, more than is known of many
a modern author.  There is abundance of biography and autobiography.
Milton had a noble self-esteem, and he was engaged for twenty years in
hot controversies.  Hence those passages of apologetics scattered
through his prose works, from which the lives of their author have been
largely compiled.  Moreover he was a pamphleteer and journalist, as
well as a poet, uttering himself freely on the questions of the day.
We know his opinions on government, education, religion, marriage and
divorce, the freedom of the press and many other subjects.  We know
what he thought of eminent contemporaries, Charles I., Cromwell, Vane,
Desborough, Overton, Fairfax.  It was not then the fashion to write
critical essays, literary reviews and book notices.  Yet, aside from
his own practice, his writings are sown here and there with incidental
judgments of books and authors, from which his literary principles may
be gathered.  He has spoken now and again of Shakspere and Ben Jonson,
of Spenser, Chaucer, Euripides, Homer, the book of Job, the psalms of
David, the Song of Solomon, the poems of Tasso and Ariosto, the Arthur
and Charlemagne romances, of Bacon and Selden, the dramatic unities,
blank verse _vs._ rhyme, and similar topics.

In some aspects and relations, harsh and unlovely, egotistical and
stubborn, the total impression of Milton's personality is singularly
imposing.  His virtues were manly virtues.  Of the four cardinal moral
virtues--the so-called Aristotelian virtues--temperance, justice,
fortitude, prudence; which Dante symbolizes by the group of stars--

  Non viste mai fuor ch' alla prima gente--

Milton had a full share.  He was not always, though he was most
commonly, just.  Prudence, the only virtue, says Carlyle, which gets
its reward on earth, prudence he had, yet not a timid prudence.  Of
temperance--the Puritan virtue--and all that it includes, chastity,
self-reverence, self-control, _Comus_ is the beautiful hymn.  But,
above all, Milton had the heroic virtue, fortitude; not only passively
in the proud and sublime endurance of the evil days and evil tongues on
which he had fallen; of the darkness, dangers, solitude that compassed
him round; but actively in "the unconquerable will * * * and courage
never to submit or yield"; the courage which "bates no jot of heart or
hope, but still bears up and steers right onward."

There is nothing more bracing in English poetry than those passages in
the sonnets, in _Paradise Lost_ and in _Samson Agonistes_ where Milton
speaks of his blindness.  Yet here it is observable that Milton, who is
never sentimental, is also never pathetic but when he speaks of
himself, in such lines, e.g., as Samson's

  My race of glory run, and race of shame,
  And I shall shortly be with them that rest."

Dante has this same touching dignity in alluding to his own sorrows;
but his hard and rare pity is more often aroused by the sorrows of
others: by Ugolino's little starving children, or by the doom of
Francesca and her lover.  Milton is untender.  Yet virtue with him is
not always forbidding and austere.  As he was a poet, he felt the
"beauty of holiness," though in another sense than Archbishop Laud's
use of that famous phrase.  It was his "natural haughtiness," he tells
us, that saved him from sensuality and base descents of mind.  His
virtue was a kind of good taste, a delicacy almost womanly.  It is the
"Lady of Christ's" speaking with the lips of the lady in _Comus_, who
says

  --That which is not good is not delicious
  To a well governed and wise appetite."


But there is a special fitness in this commemoration at this place.
For Milton is the scholar poet.  He is the most learned, the most
classical, the most bookish--I was about to say the most academic--of
English poets; but I remember that academic, through its use in certain
connections, might imply a timid conformity to rules and models, a lack
of vital originality which would not be true of Milton.  Still, Milton
was an academic man in a broad sense of the word.  A hard student of
books, he injured his eyes in boyhood by too close application, working
every day till midnight.  He spent seven years at his university.  He
was a teacher and a writer on education.  I need not give the catalog
of his acquirements further than to say that he was the best educated
Englishman of his generation.

Mark Pattison, indeed, who speaks for Oxford, denies that Milton was a
regularly learned man, like Usher or Selden.  That is, I understand, he
had made no exhaustive studies in professional fields of knowledge such
as patristic theology or legal antiquities.  Of course not: Milton was
a poet: he was studying for power, for self-culture and inspiration,
and had little regard for a merely retrospective scholarship which
would not aid him in the work of creation.

Be that as it may, all Milton's writings in prose and verse are so
saturated with learning as greatly to limit the range of their appeal.
A poem like _Lycidas_, loaded with allusions, can be fully enjoyed only
by the classical scholar who is in the tradition of the Greek
pastoralists, who "knows the Dorian water's gush divine."  I have heard
women and young people and unlettered readers who have a natural taste
for poetry, and enjoy Burns and Longfellow, object to this classical
stiffness in Milton as pedantry.  Now pedantry is an ostentation of
learning for its own sake, and none has said harder things of it than
Milton.

              "--Who reads
  Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
  A spirit and judgment equal or superior * *
  Uncertain and unsettled still remains,
  Deep-versed in books and shallow in himself."


Cowley was the true pedant: his erudition was crabbed and encumbered
the free movement of his mind, while Milton made his the grace and
ornament of his verse.

  How charming is divine philosophy!
  Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
  But musical as is Apollo's lute."

I think we may attribute Milton's apparent pedantry, not to a wish for
display, but to an imagination familiarized with a somewhat special
range of associations.  This is a note of the Renaissance, and Milton's
culture was Renaissance culture.  That his mind derived its impetus
more directly from books than from life; that his pages swarm with the
figures of mythology and the imagery of the ancient poets is true.  In
his youthful poems he accepted and perfected Elizabethan, that is,
Renaissance, forms: the court masque, the Italian sonnet, the
artificial pastoral.  But as he advanced in art and life, he became
classical in a severer sense, discarding the Italianate conceits of his
early verse, rejecting rhyme and romance, replacing decoration with
construction; and finally, in his epic and tragedy modeled on the pure
antique, applying Hellenic form to Hebraic material.  His political and
social, no less than his literary, ideals were classical.  The English
church ritual, with its Catholic ceremonies; the universities, with
their scholastic curricula; the feudal monarchy, the medieval court and
peerage--of all these barbarous survivals of the Middle Ages he would
have made a clean sweep, to set up in their stead a commonwealth
modeled on the democracies of Greece and Rome, schools of philosophy
like the Academy and the Porch, and voluntary congregations of
Protestant worshipers without priest, liturgy or symbol, practicing a
purely rational and spiritual religion.  He says to the Parliament:
"How much better I find ye esteem it to imitate the old and elegant
humanity of Greece than the barbaric pride of a Hunnish and Norwegian
stateliness."  And elsewhere: "Those ages to whose polite wisdom and
letters we owe that we are not yet Goths and Jutlanders."

So in his treatment of public questions Milton had what Bacon calls
"the humor of a scholar."  He was an idealist and a doctrinaire, with
little historic sense and small notion of what is practicable here and
now.  England is still a monarchy; the English church is still
prelatical and has its hireling clergy; Parliament keeps its two
chambers, and the bishops sit and vote in the house of peers; ritualism
and tractarianism gain apace upon low church and evangelical; the
_Areopagitica_ had no effect whatever in hastening the freedom of the
press; and, ironically enough, Milton himself, under the protectorate,
became an official book licenser.

England was not ripe for a republic; she was returning to her idols,
"choosing herself a captain back to Egypt."  It took a century and a
half for English liberty to recover the ground lost at the Restoration.
Nevertheless that little group of republican idealists, Vane, Bradshaw,
Lambert and the rest, with Milton their literary spokesman, must always
interest us as Americans and republicans.  Let us, however, not
mistake.  Milton was no democrat.  His political principles were
republican, or democratic if you please, but his personal feelings were
intensely aristocratic.  Even that free commonwealth which he thought
he saw so easy and ready a way to establish, and the constitution of
which he sketched on the eve of the Restoration, was no democracy, but
an aristocratic, senatorial republic like Venice, a government of the
_optimates_, not of the populace.  For the trappings of royalty, the
pomp and pageantry, the servility and flunkeyism of a court, Milton had
the contempt of a plain republican:

      "How poor their outworn coronets
  Beside one leaf of that plain civic wreath!"

But for the people, as a whole, he had an almost equal contempt.  They
were "the ungrateful multitude," "the inconsiderate multitude," the
_profanum vulgus_, "the throng and noises of vulgar and irrational
men."  There was not a popular drop of blood in him.  He had no faith
in universal suffrage or majority rule.  "More just it is," he wrote,
"that a less number compel a greater to retain their liberty, than that
a greater number compel a less to be their fellow slaves," i.e. to
bring back the king by a _plébescite_.  And again: "The best affected
and best principled of the people stood not numbering or computing on
which side were most voices in Parliament, but on which side appeared
to them most reason."

Milton was a Puritan; and the Puritans, though socially belonging, for
the most part, among the plain people, and though made by accident the
champions of popular rights against privilege, were yet a kind of
spiritual aristocrats.  Calvinistic doctrine made of the elect a chosen
few, a congregation of saints, set apart from the world.  To this
feeling of religious exclusiveness Milton's pride of intellect added a
personal intensity.  He respects distinction and is always rather
scornful of the average man, the _pecus ignavum silentum_, the herd of
the obscure and unfamed.

  "Nor do I name of men the common rout
  That, wandering loose about,
  Grow up and perish like the summer fly,
  Heads without names, no more remembered."


Hazlitt insisted that Shakspere's principles were aristocratic,
chiefly, I believe, because of his handling of the tribunes and the
plebs in _Coriolanus_.  Shakspere does treat his mobs with a kindly and
amused contempt.  They are fickle, ignorant, illogical, thick-headed,
easily imposed upon.  Still he makes you feel that they are composed of
good fellows at bottom, quickly placated and disposed to do the fair
thing.  I think that Shakspere's is the more democratic nature; that
his distrust of the people is much less radical than Milton's.  Walt
Whitman's obstreperous democracy, his all-embracing _camaraderie_, his
liking for the warm, gregarious pressure of the crowd, was a spirit
quite alien from his whose "soul was like a star and dwelt apart."
Anything vulgar was outside or below the sympathies of this Puritan
gentleman.  Falstaff must have been merely disgusting to him; and fancy
him reading Mark Twain!  In Milton's references to popular pastimes
there is always a mixture of disapproval, the air of the superior
person.  "The people on their holidays," says Samson, are "impetuous,
insolent, unquenchable."  "Methought," says the lady in _Comus_,

            "--it was the sound
  Of riot and ill managed merriment,
  Such as the jocund flute or gamesome pipe
  Stirs up among the loose, unlettered hinds
  When, for their teeming flocks and granges full,
  In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan
  And thank the gods amiss."


Milton liked to be in the minority, to bear up against the pressure of
hostile opinion.  "God intended to prove me," he wrote, "whether I
durst take up alone a rightful cause against a world of disesteem, and
found I durst."  The seraph Abdiel is a piece of self-portraiture;
there is no more characteristic passage in all his works:

      "--The Seraph Abdiel, faithful found
  Among the faithless, faithful only he * * *
  Nor number nor example with him wrought
  To swerve from truth or change his constant mind,
  Though single.  From amidst them forth he past
  Long way through hostile scorn which he sustained
  Superior, nor of violence feared aught;
  And with retorted scorn his back he turned
  On those proud towers to swift destruction doomed."


Milton was no democrat; equality and fraternity were not his trade,
though liberty was his passion.  Liberty he defended against the
tyranny of the mob, as of the king.  He preferred a republic to a
monarchy, since he thought it less likely to interfere with the
independence of the private citizen.  Political liberty, liberty of
worship and belief, freedom of the press, freedom of divorce, he
asserted them all in turn with unsurpassed eloquence.  He proposed a
scheme of education reformed from the clogs of precedent and authority.
Even his choice of blank verse for _Paradise Lost_ he vindicated as a
case of "ancient _liberty_ recovered to heroic song from this
troublesome and modern bondage of riming."

There is yet one reason more why we at Yale should keep this
anniversary.  Milton was the poet of English Puritanism, and therefore
he is our poet.  This colony and this college were founded by English
Puritans; and here the special faith and manners of the Puritans
survived later than at the other great University of New
England--survived almost in their integrity down to a time within the
memory of living men.  When Milton left Cambridge in 1632,
"church-outed by the prelates," it was among the possibilities that,
instead of settling down at his father's country-house at Horton, he
might have come to New England.  Winthrop had sailed, with his company,
two years before.  In 1635 three thousand Puritans emigrated to
Massachusetts, among them Sir Henry Vane, the younger,--the "Vane,
young in years, but in sage counsels old," of Milton's sonnet--who was
made governor of the colony in the following year.  Or in 1638, the
year of the settlement of New Haven, when Milton went to Italy for
culture, it would not have been miraculous had he come instead to
America for freedom.  It was in that same year that, according to a
story long believed though now discredited, Cromwell, Pym, Hampden and
Hazelrig, despairing of any improvement in conditions at home, were
about to embark for New England when they were stopped by orders in
council.  Is it too wild a dream that _Paradise Lost_ might have been
written in Boston or in New Haven?  But it was not upon the cards.  The
literary class does not willingly emigrate to raw lands, or separate
itself from the thick and ripe environment of an old civilization.
However, we know that Vane and Roger Williams were friends of Milton;
and he must have known and been known to Cromwell's chaplain, Hugh
Peters, who had been in New England; and doubtless to others among the
colonists.  It is, at first sight, therefore rather strange that there
is no mention of Milton, so far as I have observed, in any of our
earlier colonial writers.  It is said, I know not on what authority,
that there was not a single copy of Shakspere's plays in New England in
the seventeenth century.  That is not so strange, considering the
Puritan horror of the stage.  But one might have expected to meet with
mention of Milton, as a controversialist if not as a poet.  The French
Huguenot poet DuBartas, whose poem _La Semaine_ contributed some items
to the account of the creation in _Paradise Lost_, was a favorite
author in New England--I take it, in Sylvester's translation, _The
Divine Weeks and Works_.  It is also said that the _Emblems_ of
Milton's contemporary, Francis Quarles, were much read in New England.
But Tyler supposes that Nathaniel Ames, in his Almanac for 1725,
"pronounced there for the first time the name of Milton, together with
chosen passages from his poems."  And he thinks it worth noting that
Lewis Morris, of Morrisania, ordered an edition of Milton from a London
bookseller in 1739.*


* Mr. Charles Francis Adams informs me that a letter of inquiry sent by
him to the _Evening Post_ has brought out three or four references to
Milton in the _Magnalia_, besides other allusions to him in the
publications of the period.  Mr. Adams adds, however, that there is
nothing to show that _Paradise Lost_ was much read in New England prior
to 1750.  The _Magnalia_ was published in 1702.


The failure of our forefathers to recognize the great poet of their
cause may be explained partly by the slowness of the growth of Milton's
fame in England.  His minor poems, issued in 1645, did not reach a
second edition till 1673.  _Paradise Lost_, printed in 1667, found its
fit audience, though few, almost immediately.  But the latest
literature traveled slowly in those days into a remote and rude
province.  Moreover the educated class in New England, the ministers,
though a learned, were not a literary set, as is abundantly shown by
their own experiments in verse.  It is not unlikely that Cotton Mather
or Michael Wigglesworth would have thought DuBartas and Quarles better
poets than Milton if they had read the latter's works.

We are proud of being the descendants of the Puritans; perhaps we are
glad that we are their descendants only, and not their contemporaries.
Which side would you have been on, if you had lived during the English
civil war of the seventeenth century?  Doubtless it would have depended
largely on whether you lived in Middlesex or in Devon, whether your
parents were gentry or tradespeople, and on similar accidents.  We
think that we choose, but really choices are made for us.  We inherit
our politics and our religion.  But if free to choose, I know in which
camp I would have been, and it would not have been that in which
Milton's friends were found.  The New Model army had the
discipline--and the prayer meetings.  I am afraid that Rupert's
troopers plundered, gambled, drank and swore most shockingly.  There
was good fighting on both sides, but the New Model had the right end of
the quarrel and had the victory, and I am glad that it was so.  Still
there was more fun in the king's army, and it was there that most of
the good fellows were.

The influence of Milton's religion upon his art has been much
discussed.  It was owing to his Puritanism that he was the kind of poet
that he was, but it was in spite of his Puritanism that he was a poet
at all.  He was the poet of a cause, a party, a sect whose attitude
toward the graces of life and the beautiful arts was notoriously one of
distrust and hostility.  He was the poet, not only of that Puritanism
which is a permanent element in English character, but of much that was
merely temporary and local.  How sensitive then must his mind have been
to all forms of loveliness, how powerful the creative instinct in him,
when his genius emerged without a scar from the long struggle of twenty
years, during which he had written pamphlet after pamphlet on the angry
questions of the day, and nothing at all in verse but a handful of
sonnets mostly provoked by public occasions!

The fact is, there were all kinds of Puritans.  There were dismal
precisians, like William Prynne, illiberal and vulgar fanatics, the
Tribulation Wholesomes, Hope-on-high Bombys, and Zeal-of-the-land
Busys, whose absurdities were the stock in trade of contemporary
satirists from Jonson to Butler.  But there were also gentlemen and
scholars, like Fairfax, Marvell, Colonel Hutchinson, Vane, whose
Puritanism was consistent with all elegant tastes and accomplishments.
Was Milton's Puritanism hurtful to his art?  No and yes.  It was in
many ways an inspiration; it gave him zeal, a Puritan word much
ridiculed by the Royalists; it gave refinement, distinction,
selectness, elevation to his picture of the world.  But it would be
uncritical to deny that it also gave a certain narrowness and rigidity
to his view of human life.

It is curious how Milton's early poems have changed places in favor
with _Paradise Lost_.  They were neglected for over a century.  Joseph
Warton testifies in 1756 that they had only "very lately met with a
suitable regard"; had lain "in a sort of obscurity, the private
enjoyment of a few curious readers."  And Dr. Johnson exclaims: "Surely
no man could have fancied that he read _Lycidas_ with pleasure, had he
not known its author."  There can be little doubt that now-a-days
Milton's juvenilia are more read than _Paradise Lost_, and by
many--perhaps by a majority of readers--rated higher.  In this opinion
I do not share.  _Paradise Lost_ seems to me not only greater work,
more important, than the minor pieces, but better poetry, richer and
perfecter.  Yet one quality these early poems have which _Paradise
Lost_ has not--charm.  Milton's epic astonishes, moves, delights, but
it does not fascinate.  The youthful Milton was sensitive to many
attractions which he afterwards came to look upon with stern
disapproval.  He went to the theatre and praised the comedies of
Shakspere and Jonson; he loved the romances of chivalry and fairy
tales; he had no objection to dancing, ale drinking, the music of the
fiddle and rural sports; he writes to Diodati of the pretty girls on
the London streets; he celebrates the Catholic and Gothic elegancies of
English church architecture and ritual, the cloister's pale, the organ
music and full voiced choir, the high embowed roof, and the storied
windows which his military friends were soon to smash at Ely,
Salisbury, Canterbury, Lichfield, as popish idolatries.  But in
_Iconoclastes_ we find him sneering at the king for keeping a copy of
Shakspere in his closet.  In his treatise _Of Reformation_ he denounces
the prelates for "embezzling the treasury of the church on painted and
gilded walls of temples, wherein God hath testified to have no
delight."  Evidently the Anglican service was one of those "gay
religions, rich with pomp and gold" to which he alludes in _Paradise
Lost_.  A chorus commends Samson the Nazarene for drinking nothing but
water.  Modern tragedies are condemned for "mixing comic stuff with
tragic sadness and gravity, or introducing trivial and vulgar
persons"--as Shakspere does.  In _Paradise Lost_ the poet speaks with
contempt of the romances whose "chief mastery" it was

            --to dissect,
  With long and tedious havoc, fabled knights
  In battles feigned."

And in _Paradise Regained_ he even disparages his beloved classics,
preferring the psalms of David, the Hebrew prophecies and the Mosaic
law, to the poets, philosophers and orators of Athens.

The Puritans were Old Testament men.  Their God was the Hebrew Jehovah,
their imaginations were filled with the wars of Israel and the militant
theocracy of the Jews.  In Milton's somewhat patronizing attitude
toward women, there is something Mosaic--something almost Oriental.  He
always remained susceptible to beauty in women, but he treated it as a
weakness, a temptation.  The bitterness of his own marriage experience
mingles with his words.  I need not cite the well-known passages about
Dalilah and Eve, where he who reads between the lines can always detect
the figure of Mary Powell.  There is no gallantry in Milton, but a deal
of common sense.  The love of the court poets, cavaliers and
sonneteers, their hyperboles of passion, their abasement before their
ladies he doubtless scorned as the fopperies of chivalry, fantastic and
unnatural exaggerations, the insincerities of "vulgar amourists," the
fume of

            "--court amour,
  Mixt dance, or wanton mask, or midnight ball,
  Or serenate which the starved lover sings
  To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain."


To the Puritan, woman was at best the helpmate and handmaid of man.
Too often she was a snare, or a household foe, "a cleaving mischief far
within defensive arms."  _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ are the only
poems of Milton in which he surrenders himself spontaneously to the joy
of living, to "unreproved pleasures free," with no _arrière pensée_, or
intrusion of the conscience.  Even in those pleasant Horatian lines to
Lawrence, inviting him to spend a winter day by the fire, drink wine
and hear music, he ends with a fine Puritan touch:

  He who of these delights can judge, yet spare
  To interpose them oft, is truly wise."


"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more
cakes and ale?" inquires Sir Toby of Shakspere's only Puritan.

"Yes," adds the clown, "and ginger shall be hot in the mouth, too."
And "wives may be merry and yet honest," asserts Mistress Page.

It is not without astonishment that one finds Emerson writing: "To this
antique heroism Milton added the genius of the Christian sanctity * * *
laying its chief stress on humility."  Milton had a zeal for
righteousness, a noble purity and noble pride.  But if you look for
saintly humility, for the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, the
spirit of charity and forgiveness, look for them in the Anglican
Herbert, not in the Puritan Milton.  Humility was no fruit of the
system which Calvin begot and which begot John Knox.  The Puritans were
great invokers of the sword of the Lord and of Gideon--the sword of
Gideon and the dagger of Ehud.  There went a sword out of Milton's
mouth against the enemies of Israel, a sword of threatenings, the wrath
of God upon the ungodly.  The temper of his controversial writings is
little short of ferocious.  There was not much in him of that "sweet
reasonableness" which Matthew Arnold thought the distinctive mark of
Christian ethics.  He was devout, but not with the Christian
devoutness.  I would not call him a Christian at all, except, of
course, in his formal adherence to the creed of Christianity.  Very
significant is the inferiority of _Paradise Regained_ to _Paradise
Lost_.  And in _Paradise Lost_ itself, how weak and faint is the
character of the Savior!  You feel that he is superfluous, that the
poet did not need him.  He is simply the second person of the Trinity,
the executive arm of the Godhead; and Milton is at pains to invent
things for him to do--to drive the rebellious angels out of heaven, to
preside over the six days' work of creation, etc.  I believe it was
Thomas Davidson who said that in _Paradise Lost_ "Christ is God's good
boy."

We are therefore not unprepared to discover, from Milton's _Treatise of
Christian Doctrine_, that he had laid aside the dogma of vicarious
sacrifice and was, in his last years, a Unitarian.  It was this Latin
treatise, translated and published in 1824, which called out Macaulay's
essay, so urbanely demolished by Matthew Arnold, and which was
triumphantly reviewed by Dr. Channing in the _North American_.  It was
lucky for Dr. Channing, by the way, that he lived in the nineteenth
century and not in the seventeenth.  Two Socinians, Leggatt and
Wightman, were burned at the stake as late as James the First's reign,
one at Lichfield and the other at Smithfield.

Milton, then, does not belong with those broadly human, all tolerant,
impartial artists, who reflect, with equal sympathy and infinite
curiosity, every phase of life: with Shakspere and Goethe or, on a
lower level, with Chaucer and Montaigne; but with the intense, austere
and lofty souls whose narrowness is likewise their strength.  His place
is beside Dante, the Catholic Puritan.





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