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Title: Milton
Author: Pattison, Mark
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Milton" ***

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MILTON

by

MARK PATTISON, B.D.

RECTOR OF LINCOLN COLLEGE, OXFORD




CONTENTS.


FIRST PERIOD. 1608-1639.

CHAPTER I.   FAMILY--SCHOOL--COLLEGE

CHAPTER II.  RESIDENCE AT HORTON--L'ALLEGRO--IL PENSEROSO--AUCADES
             --COMUS--LYCIDAS

CHAPTER III. JOURNEY TO ITALY


SECOND PERIOD. 1640-1660.

CHAPTER IV.  EDUCATIONAL THEORY--TEACHING

CHAPTER V.   MARRIAGE AND PAMPHLET ON DIVORCE

CHAPTER VI.  PAMPHLETS

CHAPTER VII. BIOGRAPHICAL. 1640-1649

CHAPTER VIII THE LATIN SECRETARYSHIP

CHAPTER IX.  MILTON AND MORUS--BLINDNESS

CHAPTER X.   MILTON AND MOSES--THE SECOND DEFENSE--THE DEFENSE FOR
             HIMSELF

CHAPTER XI.  LATIN SECRETARYSHIP COMES TO AN END--MILTON'S FRIENDS


THIRD PERIOD. 1660--1674

CHAPTER XII. BIOGRAPHICAL--LITERARY OCCUPATION--RELIGIOUS OPINIONS

CHAPTER XIII.PARADISE LOST--PARADISE REGAINED--SAMSON AGONISTES


INDEX




MILTON.




_FIRST PERIOD_. 1608-1639.




CHAPTER I.

FAMILY--SCHOOL--COLLEGE.


In the seventeenth century it was not the custom to publish two
volumes upon every man or woman whose name had appeared on a
title-page. Nor, where lives of authors were written, were they
written with the redundancy of particulars which is now allowed.
Especially are the lives of the poets and dramatists obscure and
meagrely recorded. Of Milton, however, we know more personal details
than of any man of letters of that age. Edward Phillips, the poet's
nephew, who was brought up by his uncle, and lived in habits of
intercourse with him to the last, wrote a life, brief, inexact,
superficial, but valuable from the nearness of the writer to the
subject of his memoir. A cotemporary of Milton, John Aubrey (b.1625),
"a very honest man, and accurate in his accounts of matters of fact,"
as Toland says of him, made it his business to learn all he could
about Milton's habits. Aubrey was himself acquainted with Milton, and
diligently catechised thepoet's widow, his brother, and his nephew,
scrupulously writing down each detail as it came to him, in the
minutee of lives which he supplied to Antony Wood to be worked up in
his _Athenae_ and _Fasti_. Aubrey was only an antiquarian collector,
and was mainly dependent on what could be learned from the family.
None of Milton's family, and least of all Edward Phillips, were of a
capacity to apprehend moral or mental qualities, and they could only
tell Aubrey of his goings out and his comings in, of the clothes
he wore, the dates of events, the names of his acquaintance. In
compensation for the want of observation on the part of his own kith
and kin, Milton himself, with a superb and ingenuous egotism,
has revealed the secret of his thoughts and feelings in numerous
autobiographical passages of his prose writings. From what he directly
communicates, and from what he unconsciously betrays, we obtain an
internal life of the mind, more ample than that external life of the
bodily machine, which we owe to Aubrey and Phillips.

In our own generation all that printed books or written documents
have preserved about Milton has been laboriously brought together by
Professor David Masson, in whose _Life of Milton_ we have the most
exhaustive biography that ever was compiled of any Englishman. It is a
noble and final monument erected to the poet's memory, two centuries
after his death. My excuse for attempting to write of Milton alter Mr.
Masson is that his life is in six volumes octavo, with a total of some
four to five thousand pages. The present outline is written for a
different class of readers, those, namely, who cannot afford to know
more of Milton than can be told in some two hundred and fifty pages.

A family of Miltons, deriving the name in all probability from the
parish of Great Milton near Thame, is found in various branches spread
over Oxfordshire and the adjoining counties in the reign of Elisabeth.
The poet's grandfather was a substantial yeoman, living at Stanton St.
John, about five miles from Oxford, within the forest of Shotover, of
which he was also an under-ranger. The ranger's son John was at school
in Oxford, possibly as a chorister, conformed to the Established
Church, and was in consequence cast off by his father, who adhered
to the old faith. The disinherited son went up to London, and by
the assistance of a friend was set up in business as a scrivener. A
scrivener discharged some of the functions which, at the present day,
are undertaken for us in a solicitor's office. John Milton the father,
being a man of probity and force of character, was soon on the way to
acquire "a plentiful fortune." But he continued to live over his shop,
which was in Bread Street, Cheapside, and which bore the sign of the
Spread Eagle, the family crest.

It was at the Spread Eagle that his eldest son, John Milton, was
born, 9th December, 1608, being thus exactly contemporary with Lord
Clarendon, who also died in the same year as the poet. Milton must be
added to the long roll of our poets who have been natives of the
city which now never sees sunlight or blue sky, along with Chaucer,
Spenser, Herrick, Cowley, Shirley, Ben Jonson, Pope, Gray, Keats.
Besides attending as a day-scholar at St. Paul's School, which was
close at hand, his father engaged for him a private tutor at home. The
household of the Spread Eagle not only enjoyed civic prosperity, but
some share of that liberal cultivation, which, if not imbibed in the
home, neither school nor college ever confers. The scrivener was not
only an amateur in music, but a composer, whose tunes, songs, and airs
found their way into the best collections of music. Both schoolmaster
and tutor were men of mark. The high master of St. Paul's at that time
was Alexander Gill, an M.A. of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who was
"esteemed to have such an excellent way of training up youth, that
none in his time went beyond it." The private tutor was Thomas Young,
who was, or had been, curate to Mr. Gataker, of Rotherhithe, itself
a certificate of merit, even if we had not the pupil's emphatic
testimony of gratitude. Milton's fourth elegy is addressed to Young,
when, in 1627, he was settled at Hamburg, crediting him with having
first infused into his pupil a taste for classic literature and
poetry. Biographers have derived Milton's Presbyterianism in 1641 from
the lessons twenty years before of this Thomas Young, a Scotchman,
and one of the authors of the _Smectymnuus_. This, however, is a
misreading of Milton's mind--a mind which was an organic whole--"whose
seed was in itself," self-determined; not one whose opinions can be
accounted for by contagion or casual impact.

Of Milton's boyish exercises two have bean preserved. They are English
paraphrases of two of the Davidic Psalms, and were done at the age of
fifteen. That they were thought by himself worth printing in the same
volume with _Comus_, is the most noteworthy thing about them. No words
are so commonplace but that they can be made to yield inference by a
biographer. And even in these school exercises we think we can discern
that the future poet was already a diligent reader of Sylvester's _Du
Bartas_ (1605), the patriarch of Protestant poetry, and of Fairfax's
_Tasso_ (1600). There are other indications that, from very early
years, poetry had assumed a place in Milton's mind, not merely as a
juvenile pastime, but as an occupation of serious import.

Young Gill, son of the high master, a school-fellow of Milton, went
up to Trinity, Oxford, where he got into trouble by being informed
against by Chillingworth, who reported incautious political speeches
of Gill to his godfather, Laud. With Gill Milton corresponded; they
exchanged their verses, Greek, Latin, and English, with a confession
on Milton's part that he prefers English and Latin composition to
Greek; that to write Greek verses in this age is to sing to the deaf.
Gill, Milton finds "a severe critic of poetry, however disposed to be
lenient to his friend's attempts."

If Milton's genius did not announce itself in his paraphrases of
Psalms, it did in his impetuosity in learning, "which I seized with
such eagerness that from the twelfth year of my age, I scarce ever
went to bed before midnight." Such is his own account. And it
is worthnotice that we have here an incidental test of the
trustworthiness of Aubrey's reminiscences. Aubrey's words are, "When
he was very young he studied very hard, and sate up very late,
commonly till twelve or one o'clock at night; and his father ordered
the maid to sit up for him."

He was ready for college at sixteen, not earlier than the usual age
at that period. As his schoolmasters, both the Gills, were Oxford men
(Young was of St. Andrew's), it might have been expected that the
young scholar would have been placed at Oxford. However, it was
determined that he should go to Cambridge, where he was admitted a
pensioner of Christ's, 12th February, 1625, and commenced residence in
the Easter term ensuing. Perhaps his father feared the growing High
Church, or, as it was then called, Arminianism, of his own university.
It so happened, however, that the tutor to whom the young Milton was
consigned was specially noted for Arminian proclivities. This was
William Chappell, then Fellow of Christ's, who so recommended himself
to Laud by his party zeal, that he was advanced to be Provost of
Dublin and Bishop of Cork.

Milton was one of those pupils who are more likely to react against
a tutor than to take a ply from him. A preaching divine--Chappell
composed a treatise on the art of preaching--a narrow ecclesiastic of
the type loved by Land, was exactly the man who would drive Milton
into opposition. But the tutor of the seventeenth century was not
able, like the easy-going tutor of the eighteenth, to leave the young
rebel to pursue the reading of his choice in his own chamber. Chappell
endeavoured to drive his pupil along the scholastic highway of
exercises. Milton, returning to Cambridge after his summer vacation,
eager for the acquisition of wisdom, complains that he "was dragged
from his studies, and compelled to employ himself in composing
some frivolous declamation!" Indocile, as he confesses himself
(indocilisque aetas prava magistra fuit), he kicked against either the
discipline or the exercises exacted by college rules. He was punished.
Aubrey had heard that he was flogged, a thing not impossible in
itself, as the _Admonition Book_ of Emanuel gives an instance of
corporal chastisement as late as 1667. Aubrey's statement, however, is
a dubitative interlineation in his MS., and Milton's age, seventeen,
as well as the silence of his later detractors, who raked up
everything which could be told to his disadvantage, concur to make us
hesitate to accept a fact on so slender evidence. Anyhow, Milton was
sent away from college for a time, in the year 1627, in consequence
of something unpleasant which had occurred. That it was something of
which he was not ashamed is clear, from his alluding to it himself in
the lines written at the time,--

    Nec duri libet usque minas perferre magistri
      Caeteraque ingenio non subeunda meo.

And that the tutor was not considered to have been wholly free from
blame is evident from the fact that the master transferred Milton from
Chappell to another tutor, a very unusual proceeding. Whatever the
nature of the punishment, it was not what is known as rustication; for
Milton did not lose a term, taking his two degrees of B.A. and M.A. in
regular course, at the earliest date from his matriculation permitted
by the statutes. The one outbreak of juvenile petulance and
indiscipline over, Milton's force of character and unusual attainments
acquired him the esteem of his seniors. The nickname of "the lady
of Christ's" given him in derision by his fellow-students, is an
attestation of virtuous conduct. Ten years later, in 1642, Milton
takes an opportunity to "acknowledge publicly, with all grateful
mind, that more than ordinary respect which I found, above many of my
equals, at the hands of those courteous and learned men, the Fellows
of that college wherein I spent some years; who, at my parting after I
had taken two degrees, as the manner is, signified many ways how much
better it would content them that I would stay; as by many letters
full of kindness and loving respect, both before that time and long
after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards me."

The words "how much better it would content them that I would stay"
have been thought to hint at the offer of a fellowship at Christ's. It
is highly improvable that such an offer was ever made. There had been
two vacancies in the roll of fellows since Milton had become eligible
by taking his B.A. degree, and he had been passed over in favour of
juniors. It is possible that Milton was not statutably eligible, for,
by the statutes of Christ's, there could not be, at one time, more
than two fellows who were natives of the same county. Edward King, who
was Milton's junior, was put in, not by college election, but by
royal mandate. And in universities generally, it is not literature or
general acquirements which recommend a candidate for endowed posts,
but technical skill in the prescribed exercises, and a pedagogic
intention.

Further than this, had a fellowship in his college been attainable, it
would not have had much attraction for Milton. A fellowship implied
two things, residence in college, with teaching, and orders in the
church. With neither of these two conditions was Milton prepared to
comply. In 1632, when he proceeded to his M.A. degree, Milton was
twenty-four, he had been seven years in college, and had therefore
sufficient experience what college life was like. He who was so
impatient of the "turba legentum prava" in the Bodleian library, could
not have patiently consorted with the vulgar-minded and illiterate
ecclesiastics, who peopled the colleges of that day. Even Mede, though
the author of _Clavis Apocalyptica_ was steeped in the soulless
clericalism of his age, could not support his brother-fellows without
frequent retirements to Balsham, "being not willing to be joined
with such company." To be dependent upon Bainbrigge's (the Master of
Christ's) good pleasure for a supply of pupils; to have to live in
daily intercourse with the Powers and the Chappells, such as we know
them from Mede's letters, was an existence to which only the want
of daily bread could have driven Milton. Happily his father's
circumstances were not such as to make a fellowship pecuniarily an
object to the son. If he longed for "the studious cloister's pale,"
he had been, now for seven years, near enough to college life to
have dispelled the dream that it was a life of lettered leisure and
philosophic retirement. It was just about Milton's time that the
college tutor finally supplanted the university professor, a system
which implied the substitution of excercises performed by the pupil
for instruction given by the teacher. Whatever advantages this system
brought with it, it brought inevitably the degradation of the teacher,
who was thus dispensed from knowledge, having only to attend to
form. The time of the college tutor was engrossed by the details of
scholastic superintendence, and the frivolous worry of academical
business. Admissions, matriculations, disputations, declamations, the
formalities of degrees, public reception of royal and noble visitors,
filled every hour of his day, and left no time, even if he had had the
taste, for private study. To teaching, as we shall see, Milton was
far from averse. But then it must be teaching as he understood it, a
teaching which should expand the intellect and raise the character,
not dexterity in playing with the verbal formulae of the disputations
of the schools.

Such an occupation could have no attractions for one who was even now
meditating _Il Penseroso_ (composed 1633). At twenty he had already
confided to his schoolfellow, the younger Gill, the secret of his
discontent with the Cambridge tone. "Here among us," he writes from
college, "are barely one or two who do not flutter off, all unfledged,
into theology, having gotten of philology or of philosophy scarce so
much as a smattering. And for theology they are content with just what
is enough to enable them to patch up a paltry sermon." He retained the
same feeling towards his Alma Mater in 1641, when he wrote (Reason of
Church Government), "Cambridge, which as in the time of her better
health, and mine own younger judgment, I never greatly admired, so now
much less...."

On a review of all these indications of feeling, I should conclude
that Milton never had serious thoughts of a college fellowship, and
that his antipathy arose from a sense of his own incompatibility of
temper with academic life, and was not, like Phineas Fletcher's, the
result of disappointed hopes, and a sense of injury for having been
refused a fellowship at King's. One consideration which remains to be
mentioned would alone be decisive in favour of this view. A fellowship
required orders. Milton had been intended for the church, and had been
sent to college with that view. By the time he left Cambridge, at
twenty-four, it had become clear, both to himself and his family, that
he could never submit his understanding to the trammels of church
formularies. His later mind, about 1641, is expressed by himself
in his own forcible style,--"The church, to whose service by the
intention of my parents and friends I was destined of a child, and
in mine own resolutions, till coming to some maturity of years, and
perceiving what tyranny had invaded in the church, that he who would
take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal.... I
thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred
office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."
When he took leave of the university, in 1632, he had perhaps not
developed this distinct antipathy to the establishment. For in a
letter, preserved in Trinity College, and written in the winter of
1631-32, he does not put forward any conscientious objections to the
clerical profession, but only apologises to the friend to whom the
letter is addressed, for delay in making choice of some profession.
The delay itself sprung from an unconscious distaste. In a mind of
the consistent texture of Milton's, motives are secretly influential
before they emerge in consciousness. We shall not be wrong in
asserting that when he left Cambridge in 1632, it was already
impossible, in the nature of things, that he should have taken orders
in the Church of England, or a fellowship of which orders were a
condition.




CHAPTER II.

RESIDENCE AT HORTON--L'ALLEGRO--IL PENSEROSO--ARCADES--COMUS--LYCIDAS.


Milton had been sent to college to quality for a profession. The
church, the first intended, he had gradually discovered to be
incompatible. Of the law, either his father's branch, or some other,
he seems to have entertained a thought, but to have speedily dismissed
it. So at the age of twenty-four he returned to his father's house,
bringing nothing with him but his education and a silent purpose. The
elder Milton had now retired from business, with sufficient means but
not with wealth. Though John was the eldest son, there were two other
children, a brother, Christopher, and a sister, Anne. To have no
profession, even a nominal one, to be above trade and below the status
of squire or yeoman, and to come home with the avowed object of
leading an idle life, was conduct which required justification. Milton
felt it to be so. In a letter addressed, in 1632, to some senior
friend at Cambridge, name unknown, he thanks him for being "a good
watchman to admonish that the hours of the night pass on, for so I
call my life as yet obscure and unserviceable to mankind, and that the
day with me is at hand, wherein Christ commands all to labour." Milton
has no misgivings. He knows that what he is doing with himself is the
best he can do. His aim is far above bread-winning, and therefore his
probation must be long. He destines for himself no indolent tarrying
in the garden of Armida. His is a "mind made and set wholly on the
accomplishment of greatest things." He knows that the looker-on will
hardly accept his apology for "being late," that it is in order to
being "more fit." Yet it is the only apology he can offer. And he is
dissatisfied with his own progress. "I am something suspicious of
myself, and do take notice of a certain belatedness in me."

Of this frame of mind the record is the second sonnet, lines which are
an inseparable part of Milton's biography--

    How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
        Stol'n on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
        My hasting days fly on with full career,
    But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
    Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth
        That I to manhood am arrived so near,
        And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
    That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
    Yet, be it less or more, or soon or slow,
        It shall be still in strictest measure even
        To that same lot, however mean or high,
    Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven.
        All is, if I have grace to use it so,
        As ever in my great Taskmaster's eye.

With aspirations thus vast, though unformed, with "amplitude of mind
to greatest deeds," Milton retired to his father's house in the
country. Five more years of self-education, added to the seven years
of academical residence, were not too much for the meditation of
projects such as Milton was already conceiving. Years many more than
twelve, filled with great events and distracting interests, were to
pass over before the body and shape of _Paradise Lost_ was given to
these imaginings.

The country retirement in which the elder Milton had fixed himself was
the little village of Horton, situated in that southernmost angle of
the county of Buckingham, which insinuates itself between Berks and
Middlesex. Though London was only about seventeen miles distant, it
was the London of Charles I., with its population of some 300,000
only; before coaches and macadamised roads; while the Colne, which
flows through the village, was still a river, and not the kennel of a
paper-mill. There was no lack of water and woods meadow and pasture,
closes and open field, with the regal towers of Windsor--"bosom'd high
in tufted trees," to crown the landscape. Unbroken leisure, solitude,
tranquillity of mind, surrounded by the thickets and woods, which
Pliny thought indispensable to poetical meditation (Epist.9.10), no
poet's career was ever commenced under more favourable auspices. The
youth of Milton stands in strong contrast with the misery, turmoil,
chance medley, struggle with poverty, or abandonment to dissipation,
which blighted the early years of so many of our men of letters.

Milton's life is a drama in three acts. The first discovers him in
the calm and peaceful retirement of Horton, of which _L'Allegro_, _Il
Penseroso_, and _Lycidas_ are the expression. In the second act he
is breathing the foul and heated atmosphere of party passion and
religious hate, generating the lurid fires which glare in the
battailous canticles of his prose pamphlets. The three great poems,
_Paradise Lost_, _Paradise Regained_, and _Samson Agonistes_, are the
utterance of his final period of solitary and Promethean grandeur,
when, blind, destitute, friendless, he testified of righteousness,
temperance, and judgment to come, alone before a fallen world.

In this delicious retirement of Horton, in alternate communing with
nature and with books, for five years of persevering study he laid in
a stock, not of learning, but of what is far above learning, of wide
and accurate knowledge. Of the man whose profession is learning, it
is characteristic that knowledge is its own end, and research its own
reward. To Milton all knowledge, all life, virtue itself, was already
only a means to a further end. He will know only "that which is of use
to know," and by useful, he meant that which conduced to form him for
his vocation of poet.

From a very early period Milton had taken poetry to be his vocation,
in the most solemn and earnest mood. The idea of this devotion was the
shaping idea of his life. It was, indeed, a bent of nature, with roots
drawing from deeper strata of character than any act of reasoned will,
which kept him out of the professions, and now fixed him, a seeming
idler, but really hard at work, in his father's house at Horton. The
intimation which he had given of his purpose in the sonnet above
quoted had become, in 1641, "an inward prompting which grows daily
upon me, that by labour and intent study, which I take to be my
portion in this life, joined with the strong propensity of nature,
I might perhaps leave something so written to after times, as they
should not willingly let it die."

What the ultimate form of his poetic utterance shall be, he is in no
hurry to decide. He will be "long choosing," and quite content to be
"beginning late." All his care at present is to qualify himself
for the lofty function to which he aspires. No lawyer, physician,
statesman, ever laboured to fit himself for his profession harder
than Milton strove to qualify himself for his vocation of poet.
Verse-making is, to the wits, a game of ingenuity; to Milton, it is
a prophetic office, towards which the will of heaven leads him. The
creation he contemplates will not flow from him as the stanzas of the
_Gerusalemme_ did from Tasso at twenty-one. Before he can make a poem,
Milton will make himself. "I was confirmed in this opinion, that he
who would not be frustrated of his hope to write well hereafter in
laudable things ought himself to be a true poem.... not presuming to
sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have
in himself the experience and practise of all that which is
praiseworthy."

Of the spontaneity, the abandon, which are supposed to be
characteristic of the poetical nature, there is nothing here; all
is moral purpose, precision, self-dedication. So he acquires ail
knowledge, not for knowledge' sake, from the instinct of learning, the
necessity for completeness, but because he is to be a poet. Nor will
he only have knowledge, he will have wisdom; moral development shall
go hand in hand with intellectual. A poet's soul should "contain of
good, wise, just, the perfect shape." He will cherish continually a
pure mind in a pure body. "I argued to myself that, if unchastity in
a woman, whom St. Paul terms the glory of man, be such a scandal and
dishonour, then certainly in a man, who is both the image and glory of
God, it must, though commonly not so thought, be much more deflouring
and dishonourable." There is yet a third constituent of the poetical
nature; to knowledge and to virtue must be added religion. For it is
from God that the poet's thoughts come. "This is not to be obtained
but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit that can enrich with all
utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed
fire of his altar, to touch and purify the life of whom he pleases. To
this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation,
and insight into all seemly and generous acts and affairs; till which
in some measure be compast, I refuse not to sustain this expectation."
Before the piety of this vow, Dr. Johnson's morosity yields for a
moment, and he is forced to exclaim, "From a promise like this, at
once fervid, pious, and rational, might be expected the _Paradise
Lost_."

Of these years of self-cultivation, of conscious moral architecture,
such as Plato enacted for his ideal State, but none but Milton ever
had the courage to practise, the biographer would gladly give a minute
account. But the means of doing so are wanting. The poet kept no diary
of his reading, such as some great students, e.g. Isaac Casaubon, have
left. Nor could such a record, had it been attempted, have shown us
the secret process by which the scholar's dead learning was transmuted
in Milton's mind into living imagery. "Many studious and contemplative
years, altogether spent in the search of religious and civil
knowledge" is his own description of the period. "You make many
inquiries as to what I am about;" he writes to Diodati--"what am I
thinking of? Why, with God's help, of immortality! Forgive the word, I
only whisper it in your ear! Yes, I am pluming my wings for a flight."
This was in 1637, at the end of five years of the Horton probation.
The poems, which, rightly read, are strewn with autobiographical
hints, are not silent as to the intention of this period. In _Paradise
Regained_ (i. 196), Milton reveals himself. And in _Comus_, written
at Horton, the lines 375 and following are charged with the same
sentiment,--

                        And wisdom's self
    Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,
    Where, with her best nurse, contemplations
    She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
    That in the various bustle of resort
    Were all-to ruffled and sometimes impair'd.

That at Horton Milton "read all the Greek and Latin writers" is one of
Johnson's careless versions of Milton's own words, "enjoyed a complete
holiday in turning over Latin and Greek authors." Milton read, not as
a professional philologian, but as a poet and scholar, and always in
the light of his secret purpose. It was not in his way to sit down to
read over all the Greek and Latin writers, as Casaubon or Salmasius
might do. Milton read with selection, and "meditated," says Aubrey,
what he read. His practice conformed to the principle he has himself
laid down in the often-quoted lines (_Paradise Regained_, iv. 322)--

                              Who reads
    Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
    A spirit and judgment equal or superior,
    Uncertain and unsettled still remains,
    Deep vers'd in books, and shallow in himself.

Some of Milton's Greek books have been traced; his _Arattis,
Lyeophron, Euripides_ (the Stepharnis of 1602), and his _Pindar_ (the
Benedictus of 1620), are still extant, with marginal memoranda, which
should seem to evince careful and discerning reading. One critic
even thought it worth while to accuse Joshua Barnes of silently
appropriating conjectural emendations from Milton's _Euripides_. But
Milton's own poems are the beat evidence of his familiarity with all
that is most choice in the remains of classic poetry. Though the
commentators are accused of often, seeing an imitation where there
is none, no commentary can point out the ever-present infusion of
classical flavour, which bespeaks intimate converse far more than
direct adaptation. Milton's classical allusions, says Hartley
Coleridge, are amalgamated and consubstantiated with his native
thought.

A commonplace book of Milton's, after having lurked unsuspected for
200 years in the archives of Netherby, has been disinterred in our
own day (1874). It appears to belong partly to the end of the Horton
period. It is not by any means an account of all that he is reading,
but only an arrangement, under certain heads, or places of memoranda
for future use. These notes are extracted from about eighty different
authors, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, and English. Of Greek authors
no less than sixteen are quoted. The notes are mostly notes of
historical facts, seldom of thoughts, never of mere verbal expression.
There is no trace in it of any intention to store up either the
imagery or the language of poetry. It may be that such notes were
made and entered in another volume; for the book thus accidentally
preserved to us seems to refer to other similar volumes of
collections. But it is more likely that no such poetical memoranda
were ever made, and that Milton trusted entirely to memory for the
wealth of classical allusion with which his verse is surcharged. He
did not extract from the poets and the great writers whom he was
daily turning over, but only from the inferior authors and secondary
historians, which he read only once. Most of the material collected
in the commonplace book is used in his prose pamphlets. But when so
employed the facts are worked into the texture of his argument, rather
than cited as extraneous witnesses.

In reading history it was his aim to get at a conspectus of the
general current of affairs rather than to study minutely a special
period. He tells Diodati in September, 1637, that he has studied
Greek history continuously, from the beginning to the fall of
Constantinople. When he tells the same friend that he has been long
involved in the obscurity of the early middle ages of Italian History
down to the time of the Emperor Rudolph, we learn from the commonplace
book that he had only been reading the one volume of Sigonius's
_Historia Regni Italici_. From the thirteenth century downwards he
proposes to himself to study each Italian state in some separate
history. Even before his journey to Italy he read Italian with as much
ease as French. He tells us that it was by his father's advice that he
had acquired these modern languages. But we can, see that they were
essential parts of his own scheme of self-education, which included,
in another direction, Hebrew, both Biblical and Rabbinical and even
Syriac.

The intensity of his nature showed itself in his method of study. He
read, not desultorily, a bit here and another there, but "when I take
up with a thing, I never pause or break it off, nor am drawn away from
it by any other interest, till I have arrived at the goal I proposed
to myself," He made breaks occasionally In this routine of study by
visits to London, to see friends, to buy books, to take lessons in
mathematics, to go to the theatre, or to concerts. A love of music was
inherited from his father.

I have called this period, 1632-39, one of preparation, and not of
production. But though the first volume of poems printed by Milton did
not appear till 1645, the most considerable part of its contents was
written during the period included in the present chapter.

The fame of the author of _Paradise Lost_ has overshadowed that of the
author of _L'Allegro, Il Penseroso,_ and _Lycidas_. Yet had _Paradise
Lost_ never been written, these three poems, with _Comus_, would have
sufficed to place their author in a class apart, and above all those
who had used the English language for poetical purposes before him. It
is incumbent on Milton's biographer to relate the circumstances of the
composition of _Comus_, as it is an incident in the life of the poet.

Milton's musical tastes had brought him the acquaintance of Henry
Lawes, at that time the most celebrated composer in England. When the
Earl of Bridgewater would give an entertainment at Ludlow Castle to
celebrate his entry upon his office as President of Wales and the
Marches, it was to Lawes that application was made to furnish the
music. Lawes, as naturally, applied to his young poetical acquaintance
Milton, to write the words. The entertainment was to be of that
sort which was fashionable at court, and was called a Mask. In that
brilliant period of court life which was inaugurated by Elisabeth and
put an end to by the Civil War, a Mask was a frequent and favourite
amusement. It was an exhibition in which pageantry and music
predominated, but in which dialogue was introduced as accompaniment or
explanation.

The dramatic Mask of the sixteenth century has been traced by the
antiquaries as far back as the time of Edward III. But in its
perfected shape it was a genuine offspring of the English renaissance,
a cross between the vernacular mummery, or mystery-play, and the Greek
drama. No great court festival was considered complete without such a
public show. Many of our great dramatic writers, Beaumont, Fletcher,
Ben Jonson, Middleton, Dekker, Shirley, Carew, were constrained by the
fashion of the time to apply their invention to gratify this taste for
decorative representation. No less an artist than Inigo Jones must
occasionally stoop to construct the machinery.

The taste for grotesque pageant in the open air must have gradually
died out before the general advance of refinement. The Mask by a
process of evolution would have become the Opera. But it often happens
that when a taste or fashion is at the point of death, it undergoes a
forced and temporary revival. So it was with the Mask. In 1633,
the Puritan hatred to the theatre had blazed out in Prynne's
_Histriomastix_, and as a natural consequence, the loyal and cavalier
portion of society threw itself into dramatic amusements of every
kind. It was an unreal revival of the Mask, stimulated by political
passion, in the wane of genuine taste for the fantastic and
semi-barbarous pageant, in which the former age had delighted. What
the imagination of the spectators was no longer equal to, was to
be supplied by costliness of dress and scenery. Those last
representations of the expiring Mask were the occasions of an
extravagant outlay. The Inns of Court and Whitehall vied with each
other in the splendour and solemnity with which they brought out,--the
Lawyers, Shirley's _Triumph of Peace_,--the Court, Carew's _Coelum
Britannicum_.

It was a strange caprice of fortune that made the future poet of the
Puritan epic the last composer of a cavalier mask. The slight plot, or
story, of _Comus_ was probably suggested to Milton by his recollection
of George Peele's _Old Wives' Tale_, which he may have seen on the
stage. The personage of _Comus_ was borrowed from a Latin extravaganza
by a Dutch professor, whose _Comus_ was reprinted at Oxford in
1634, the very year in which Milton wrote his _Mask_. The so-called
tradition collected by Oldys, of the young Egertons, who acted in
_Comus_, having lost themselves in Haywood Forest on their way to
Ludlow, obviously grew out of Milton's poem. However casual the
suggestion, or unpromising the occasion, Milton worked out of it a
strain of poetry such as had never been heard in England before. If
any reader wishes to realise the immense step upon what had gone
before him, which was now made by a young man of twenty-seven, he
should turn over some of the most celebrated of the masks of the
Jacobean period.

We have no information how _Comus_ was received when represented at
Ludlow, but it found a public of readers. For Lawes, who had the MS.
in his hands, was so importuned for copies that, in 1637, he caused an
edition to be printed off. Not surreptitiously; for though Lawes does
not say, in the dedication to Lord Brackley, that he had the author's
leave to print, we are sure that he had it, only from the motto. On
the title page of this edition (1637), is the line,--

    Eheu! quid volui miscro mihi! floribus anstrum
    Perditus--

The words are Virgil's, but the appropriation of them, and their
application in this "second intention" is too exquisite to have been
made by any but Milton.To the poems of the Horton period belong also
the two pieces _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, and _Lycidas_. He was
probably in the early stage of acquiring the language, when he
superscribed the two first poems with their Italian titles. For there
is no such word as "Penseroso," the adjective formed from "Pensiero"
being "pensieroso". Even had the word been written correctly, its
signification is not that which Milton intended, viz. thoughtful, or
contemplative, but anxious, full of cares, carking. The rapid
purification of Milton's taste will be best perceived by comparing
_L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ of uncertain date, but written after
1632, with the _Ode on the Nativity_, written 1629. The Ode, notwith-
standing its foretaste of Milton's grandeur, abounds in frigid conceits,
from which the two later pieces are free. The Ode is frosty, as written
in winter, within the four walls of a college chamber. The two idylls
breathe the free air of spring and summer, and of the fields round
Horton. They are thoroughly naturalistic; the choicest expression our
language has yet found of the fresh charm of country life, not as that
life is lived by the peasant, but as it is felt by a young and lettered
student, issuing at early dawn, or at sunset, into the fields from his
chamber and his books. All rural sights and sounds and smells are here
blended in that ineffable combination, which once or twice perhaps in
our lives has saluted our young senses before their perceptions were
blunted by

    alcohol, by lust, or ambition, or diluted by the social
    distractions of great cities.

    The fidelity to nature of the imagery of these poems
    has been impugned by the critics.

    Then to come, in spite of sorrow,
    And at my window bid good morrow.

The skylark never approaches human habitations in this way, as the
redbreast does, Mr. Masson replies that the subject of the verb "to
come" is, not the skylark, but L'Allegro, the joyous student. I cannot
construe the lines as Mr. Masson does, even though the consequence
were to convict Milton, a city-bred youth, of not knowing a skylark
from a sparrow when he saw it. A close observer of things around us
would not speak of the eglantine as twisted, of the cowslip as wan,
of the violet as glowing, or of the reed as balmy. Lycidas' laureate
hearse is to be strewn at once with primrose and woodbine, daffodil
and jasmine. When we read "the rathe primrose that forsaken dies," we
see that the poet is recollecting Shakespeare (Winter's Tale, 4. 4),
not looking at the primrose. The pine is not "rooted deep as high"
(_P.R._ 4416), but sends its roots along the surface. The elm, one of
the thinnest foliaged trees of the forest, is inappropriately named
starproof (_Arc_. 89). Lightning does not singe the tops of trees
(_P.L._ i. 613), but either shivers them, or cuts a groove down the
stem to the ground. These and other such like inaccuracies must be set
down partly to conventional language used without meaning, the vice
of Latin versification enforced as a task, but they are partly due to
real defect of natural knowledge.

Other objections of the critics on the same score, which may be met
with, are easily dismissed. The objector, who can discover no reason
why the oak should be styled "monumental," meets with his match in
the defender who suggests, that it may be rightly so called because
monuments in churches are made of oak. I should tremble to have to
offer an explanation to critics of Milton so acute as these two. But
of less ingenious readers I would ask, if any single word can be found
equal to "monumental" in its power of suggesting to the imagination
the historic oak of park or chase, up to the knees in fern, which has
outlasted ten generations of men; has been the mute witness of the
scenes of love, treachery, or violence enacted in the baronial hall
which it shadows and protects; and has been so associated with man,
that it is now rather a column and memorial obelisk than a tree of the
forest?

These are the humours of criticism. But, apart from these, a
naturalist is at once aware that Milton had neither the eye nor the
ear of a naturalist. At no time, even before his loss of sight, was he
an exact observer of natural objects. It may be that he knew a
skylark from a redbreast, and did not confound the dog-rose with the
honeysuckle. But I am sure that he had never acquired that interest in
nature's things and ways, which leads to close and loving watching
of them. He had not that sense of outdoor nature, empirical and not
scientific, which endows the _Angler_ of his cotemporary Walton, with
its enduring charm, and which is to be acquired only by living in the
open country in childhood. Milton is not a man of the fields, but of
books. His life is in his study, and when he steps abroad into the air
he carries his study thoughts with him. He does look at nature, but he
sees her through books. Natural impressions are received from without,
but always in those forms of beautiful speech, in which the poets of
all ages have clothed them. His epithets are not, like the epithets of
the school of Dryden and Pope, culled from the _Gradus ad Parnassum_;
they are expressive of some reality, but it is of a real emotion in
the spectator's soul, not of any quality detected by keen insight
in the objects themselves. This emotion Milton's art stamps with an
epithet, which shall convey the added charm of classical reminiscence.
When, e.g., he speaks of "the wand'ring moon," the original
significance of the epithet comes home to the scholarly reader with
the enhanced effect of its association with the "errantem lunam" of
Virgil. Nor because it is adopted from Virgil has the epithet here the
second-hand effect of a copy. If Milton sees nature through books, he
still sees it.

    To behold the wand'ring moon,
    Riding near her highest noon,
    Like one that had been led astray.
    Through the heaven's wide pathless way,
    And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
    Stooping through a fleecy cloud.

No allegation that "wand'ring moon" is borrowed from Horace can hide
from us that Milton, though he remembered Horace, had watched the
phenomenon with a feeling so intense that he projected his own soul's
throb into the object before him, and named it with what Thomson calls
"recollected love".

Milton's attitude towards nature is not that of a scientific
naturalist, nor even that of a close observer. It is that of a poet
who feels its total influence too powerfully to dissect it. If, as I
have said, Milton reads books first and nature afterwards, it is not
to test nature by his books, but to learn from both. He is learning
not books, but from books. All he reads, sees, hears, is to him but
nutriment for the soul. He is making himself. Man is to him the
highest object; nature is subordinate to man, not only in its more
vulgar uses, but as an excitant of fine emotion. He is not concerned
to register the facts and phenomena of nature, but to convey the
impressions they make on a sensitive soul. The external forms of
things are to be presented to us as transformed through the heart and
mind of the poet. The moon is endowed with life and will, "stooping",
"riding", "wand'ring", "bowing her head", not as a frigid
personification, and because the ancient poets so personified her, but
by communication to her of the intense agitation which the nocturnal
spectacle rouses in the poet's own breast.

I have sometimes read that these two idylls are "masterpieces of
description". Other critics will ask if in the scenery of _L'Allegro_
and _Il Penseroso_ Milton has described the country about Horton, in
Bucks, or that about Forest Hill, in Oxfordshire; and will object that
the Chiltern Hills are not high enough for clouds to rest upon their
top, much less upon their breast. But he has left out the pollard
willows, says another censor, and the lines of pollard willow are the
prominent feature in the valley of the Colne, even more so than the
"hedgerow elms." Does the line "Walk the studious cloister's pale,"
_mean_ St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey? When these things can continue
to be asked, it is hardly superfluous to continue to repeat, that
truth of fact and poetical truth are two different things. Milton's
attitude towards nature is not that of a "descriptive poet", if indeed
the phrase be not a self-contradiction.

In Milton, nature is not put forward as the poet's theme. His theme
is man, in the two contrasted moods of joyous emotion, or grave
reflection. The shifting scenery ministers to the varying mood.
Thomson, in the _Seasons_ (1726), sets himself to render natural
phenomena as they truly are. He has left us a vivid presentation in
gorgeous language of the naturalistic calendar of the changing year.
Milton, in these two idylls, has recorded a day of twenty-four
hours. But he has not registered the phenomena; he places us at the
standpoint of the man before whom they deploy. And the man, joyous
or melancholy, is not a bare spectator of them; he is the student,
compounded of sensibility and intelligence, of whom we are not told
that he saw so and so, or that he felt so, but with whom we are
made copartners of his thoughts and feeling. Description melts into
emotion, and contemplation bodies itself in imagery. All the charm of
rural life is there, but it is not tendered to us in the form of a
landscape; the scenery is subordinated to the human figure in the
centre.

These two short idylls are marked by a gladsome spontaneity which
never came to Milton again. The delicate fancy and feeling which play
about _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ never reappear, and form a strong
contrast to the austere imaginings of his later poetical period. These
two poems have the freedom and frolic, the natural grace of movement,
the improvisation, of the best Elizabethan examples, while both
thoughts and words are under a strict economy unknown to the diffuse
exuberance of the Spenserians.

In _Lycidas_ (1637) we have reached the high-water mark of English
Poesy and of Milton's own production. A period of a century and a half
was to elapse before poetry in England seemed, in Wordsworth's _Ode
on Immortality_ (1807), to be rising again towards the level of
inspiration which it had once attained in _Lycidas_. And in the
development of the Miltonic genius this wonderful dirge marks the
culminating point. As the twin idylls of 1632 show a great advance
upon the _Ode on the Nativity_ (1629), the growth of the poetic mind
during the five years which follow 1632 is registered in _Lycidas_.
Like the _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, _Lycidas_ is laid out on the
lines of the accepted pastoral fiction; like them it offers exquisite
touches of idealised rural life. But _Lycidas_ opens up a deeper vein
of feeling, a patriot passion so vehement and dangerous, that, like
that which stirred the Hebrew prophet, it is compelled to veil itself
from power, or from sympathy, in utterance made purposely enigmatical.
The passage which begins "Last came and last did go", raises in us a
thrill of awe-struck expectation which. I can only compare with that
excited by the Cassandra of Aeschylus's _Agamemnon_. For the reader to
feel this, he must have present in memory the circumstances of England
in 1637. He must place himself as far as possible in the situation of
a contemporary. The study of Milton's poetry compels the study of his
time; and Professor Masson's six volumes are not too much to enable
us to understand that there were real causes for the intense passion
which glows underneath the poet's words--a passion which unexplained
would be thought to be intrusive.

The historical exposition must be gathered from the English history of
the period, which may be read in Professor Masson's excellent summary.
All I desire to point out here is, that in _Lycidas_, Milton's
original picturesque vein is for the first time crossed with one
of quite another sort, stern, determined, obscurely indicative of
suppressed passion, and the resolution to do or die. The fanaticism of
the covenanter and the sad grace of Petrarch seem to meet in Milton's
monody. Yet these opposites, instead of neutralising each other, are
blended into one harmonious whole by the presiding, but invisible,
genius of the poet. The conflict between the old cavalier world--the
years of gaiety and festivity of a splendid and pleasure-loving court,
and the new puritan world into which love and pleasure were not to
enter--this conflict which was commencing in the social life of
England, is also begun in Milton's own breast, and is reflected in
_Lycidas_.

    For we were nurs'd upon the self-same hill.

Here is the sweet mournfulness of the Spenserian time, upon whose joys
Death is the only intruder. Pass onward a little, and you are in presence
of the tremendous

    Two-handed engine at the door,

the terror of which is enhanced by its obscurity. We are very sure
that the avenger is there, though we know not who he is. In these
thirty lines we have the preluding mutterings of the storm which was
to sweep away mask and revel and song, to inhibit the drama, and
suppress poetry. In the earlier poems Milton's muse has sung in the
tones of the age that is passing away; the poet is, except in his
austere chastity, a cavalier. Though even in _L'Allegro_ Dr. Johnson
truly detects "some melancholy in his mirth." In _Lycidas_, for a
moment, the tones of both ages, the past and the coming, are combined,
and then Milton leaves behind him for ever the golden age, and one
half of his poetic genius. He never fulfilled the promise with which
_Lycidas_ concludes, "Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new."




CHAPTER III.

JOURNEY TO ITALY.


Before 1632 Milton had begun to learn Italian. His mind, just then
open on all sides to impressions from books, was peculiarly attracted
by Italian poetry. The language grew to be loved for its own sake.
Saturated as he was with Dante and Petrarch, Tasso and Ariosto, the
desire arose to let the ear drink in the music of Tuscan speech.

The "unhappy gift of beauty," which has attracted the spoiler of all
ages to the Italian peninsula, has ever exerted, and still exerts, a
magnetic force on every cultivated mind. Manifold are the sources of
this fascination now. The scholar and the artist, the antiquarian and
the historian, the architect and the lover of natural scenery, alike
find here the amplest gratification of their tastes. This is so still;
but in the sixteenth century the Italian cities were the only homes
of an ancient and decaying civilization, Not insensible to other
impressions, it was specially the desire of social converse with the
living poets and men of taste--a feeble generation, but one still
nourishing the traditions of the great poetic age--which drew Milton
across the Alps.

In April, 1637, Milton's mother had died; but his younger brother,
Christopher, had come to live, with his wife, in the paternal home at
Horton. Milton, the father, was not unwilling that his son should have
his foreign tour, as a part of that elaborate education by which he
was qualifying himself for his doubtful vocation. The cost was not
to stand in the way, considerable as it must have been. Howell's
estimate, in his _Instructions for Forreine Travel_, 1642, was 300 l.
a year for the tourist himself, and 50 l. for his man, a sum equal to
about 1000 l. at present.

Among the letters of introduction with which Milton provided himself,
one was from the aged Sir Henry Wotton, Provost of Eton, in Milton's
immediate neighbourhood. Sir Henry, who had lived a long time in
Italy, impressed upon his young friend the importance of discretion on
the point of religion, and told him the story which he always told to
travellers who asked his advice. "At Siena I was tabled in the house
of one Alberto Scipioni, an old Roman courtier in dangerous times....
At my departure for Rome I had won confidence enough to beg his advice
how I might carry myself securely there, without offence of others,
or of mine own conscience. 'Signor Arrigo mio,' says he, '_pensieri
stretti ed il viso sciolto_ (thoughts close, countenance open) will go
safely over the whole world.'" Though the intensity of the Catholic
reaction had somewhat relaxed in Italy, the deportment of a Protestant
in the countries which were terrorised by the Inquisition was a matter
which demanded much circumspection. Sir H. Wotton spoke from his own
experience of far more rigorous times than those of the Barberini
Pope. But he may have noticed, even in his brief acquaintance with
Milton, a fearless presumption of speech which was just what was most
likely to bring him into trouble, The event proved that the hint was
not misplaced. For at Rome itself, in the very lion's den, nothing
could content the young zealot but to stand up for his Protestant
creed. Milton would not do as Peter Heylin did, who, when asked as to
his religion, replied that he was a Catholic, which, in a Laudian, was
but a natural equivoque. Milton was resolute in his religion at Rome,
so much so that many were deterred from showing him the civilities
they were prepared to offer. His rule, he says, was "not of my own
accord to introduce in those places conversation about religion,
but, if interrogated respecting the faith, then, whatsoever I should
suffer, to dissemble nothing. What I was, if any one asked, I
concealed from no one; if any one in the very city of the Pope
attacked the orthodox religion, I defended it most freely." Beyond the
statement that the English Jesuits were indignant, we hear of no evil
consequences of this imprudence. Perhaps the Jesuits saw that Milton
was of the stuff that would welcome martyrdom, and were sick of the
affair of Galileo, which had terribly damaged the pretensions of their
church.

Milton arrived in Paris April or May, 1638. He received civilities
from the English ambassador, Lord Scudamore, who at his request gave
him an introduction to Grotius. Grotius, says Phillips, "took Milton's
visit kindly, and gave him entertainment suitable to his worth, and
the high commendations he had heard of him." We have no other record
of his stay of many days in Paris, though A. Wood supposes that "the
manners and graces of that place were not agreeable to his mind." It
was August before he reached Florence, by way of Nice and Genoa, and
in Florence he spent the two months which we now consider the most
impossible there, the months of August and September. Nor did he
find, as he would find now, the city deserted by the natives. We hear
nothing of Milton's impressions of the place, but of the men whom he
met there he retained always a lively and affectionate remembrance.
The learned and polite Florentines had not fled to the hills from the
stifling heat and blinding glare of the Lung' Arno, but seem to have
carried on their literary meetings in defiance of climate. This
was the age of academies--an institution, Milton says, "of most
praiseworthy effect, both for the cultivation of polite letters
and the keeping up of friendships." Florence had five or six such
societies, the Florentine, the Delia Crusca, the Svogliati,
the Apotisti, &c. It is easy, and usual in our day, to speak
contemptuously of the literary tone of these academies, fostering,
as they did, an amiable and garrulous intercourse of reciprocal
compliment, and to contrast them unfavourably with our societies for
severe research. They were at least evidence of culture, and served to
keep alive the traditions of the more masculine Medicean age. And
that the members of these associations were not unaware of their own
degeneracy and of its cause, we learn from Milton himself. For as
soon as they found that they were safe with the young Briton, they
disclosed their own bitter hatred of the church's yoke which they had
to bear. "I have sate among their learned men," Milton wrote in 1644,
"and been counted happy to be born in such a place of philosophic
freedom as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing
but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was
brought, that this was it which had dampt the glory of Italian wits,
that nothing had been written there now these many years but flattery
and fustian." Milton was introduced at the meetings of their
academies; his presence is recorded on two occasions, of which the
latest is the 16th September at the Svogliati. He paid his scot by
reciting from memory some of his youthful Latin verses, hexameters,
"molto erudite," says the minute-book of the sitting, and others,
which "I shifted, in the scarcity of boots and conveniences, to patch
up." He obtained much credit by these exercises, which, indeed,
deserved it by comparison. He ventured upon the perilous experiment of
offering some compositions in Italian, which, the fastidious Tuscan
ear at least professed to include in those "encomiums which the
Italian is not forward to bestow on men of this side the Alps."

The author of _Lycidas_ cannot but have been quite aware of the small
poetical merit of such an ode as that which was addressed to him by
Francini. In this ode Milton is the swan of Thames--"Thames, which,
owing to thee, rivals Boeotian Permessus;" and so forth. But there is
a genuine feeling, an ungrudging warmth of sympathetic recognition
underlying the trite and tumid panegyric. And Milton may have yielded
to the not unnatural impulse of showing his countrymen, that though
not a prophet in boorish and fanatical England, he had found
recognition in the home of letters and arts. Upon us is forced, by
this their different reception of Milton, the contrast between the
two countries, Italy and England, in the middle of the seventeenth
century. The rude north, whose civilisation was all to come,
concentrating all its intelligence in a violent effort to work off the
ecclesiastical poison from its system, is brought into sharp contrast
with the sweet south, whose civilisation is behind it, and whose
intellect, after a severe struggle, has succumbed to the material
force and organisation of the church.

As soon as the season allowed of it, Milton set forward to Rome,
taking what was then the usual way by Siena. At Rome he spent two
months, occupying himself partly with seeing the antiquities, and
partly with cultivating the acquaintance of natives, and some of the
many foreigners resident in the eternal city. But though he received
much civility, we do not find that he met with the peculiar sympathy
which endeared to him his Tuscan friends. His chief ally was the
German, Lucas Holstenius, a native of Hamburg, who had abjured
Protestantism to become librarian of the Vatican. Holstenius had
resided three years in Oxford, and considered himself bound to repay
to the English scholar some of the attentions he had received himself.
Through Holstenius Milton was presented to the nephew, Francesco
Barberini, who was just then everything in Rome. It was at a concert
at the Barberini palace that Milton heard Leonora Baroni sing. His
three Latin epigrams addressed to this lady, the first singer of
Italy, or of the world at that time, testify to the enthusiasm she
excited in the musical soul of Milton.

Nor are these three epigrams the only homage which Milton paid to
Italian beauty. The susceptible poet, who in the sunless north would
fain have "sported with the tangles of Neaera's hair," could not
behold Neaera herself and the flashing splendour of her eye, unmoved.
Milton proclaims (_Defensio Secunda_) that in all his foreign tour he
had lived clear from all that is disgraceful. But the pudicity of his
behaviour and language covers a soul tremulous with emotion, whose
passion was intensified by the discipline of a chaste intention. Five
Italian pieces among his poems are to the address of another lady,
whose "majestic movements and love-darting dark brow" had subdued him.
The charm lay in the novelty of this style of beauty to one who came
from the land of the "vermeil-tinctur'd cheek" (_Comus_) and the
"golden nets of hair" (_El._ i. 60). No clue has been discovered to
the name of this divinity, or to the occasion on which, Milton saw
her.

Of Milton's impression of Rome there is no record. There are no traces
of special observation in his poetry. The description of the city in
_Paradise Regained_ (iv. 32) has nothing characteristic, and could
have been written by one who had never seen it, and by many as well
as by Milton. We get one glimpse of him by aid of the register of the
English College, as dining there at a "sumptuous entertainment" on
30th October, when he met Nicholas Carey, brother of Lord Falkland.
In spite of Sir Henry Wotton's caution, his resoluteness, as A.
Wood calls it, in his religion, besides making the English Jesuits
indignant, caused others, not Jesuits, to withhold civilities. Milton
only tells us himself that the antiquities detained him in Rome about
two months.

At the end of November he went on to Naples. On the road he fell in
with an Eremite friar, who gave him an introduction to the one man in
Naples whom it was important he should know, Giovanni Battista Manso,
Marquis of Villa. The marquis, now seventy-eight, had been for
two generations the Maecenas of letters in Southern Italy. He had
sheltered Tasso in the former generation, and Marini in the latter. It
was the singular privilege of his old age that he should now entertain
a third poet, greater than either. In spite of his years, he was able
to act as cicerone to the young Englishman over the scenes which he
himself, in his _Life of Tasso_, has described with the enthusiasm of
a poet. But even the high-souled Manso quailed before the terrors of
the Inquisition, and apologised to Milton for not having shown him
greater attention, because he would not be more circumspect in the
matter of religion. Milton's Italian journey brings out the two
conflicting strains of feeling which were uttered together in
_Lycidas_, the poet's impressibility by nature, the freeman's
indignation at clerical domination.

The time was now at hand when the latter passion, the noble rage
of freedom, was to suppress the more delicate flower of poetic
imagination. Milton's original scheme had included Sicily and Greece.
The serious aspect of affairs at home compelled him to renounce his
project. "I considered it dishonourable to be enjoying myself at my
ease in foreign lands, while my countrymen were striking a blow for
freedom." He retraced his steps leisurely enough, however, making a
halt of two months in Rome, and again one of two months in Florence.
We find him mentioned in the minutes of the academy of the Svogliati
as having been present at three of their weekly meetings, on the 17th,
24th, and 31st March. But the most noteworthy incident of his second
Florentine residence is his interview with Galileo. He had been unable
to see the veteran martyr of science on his first visit. For though
Galileo was at that time living within the walls, he was kept a close
prisoner by the Inquisition, and not allowed either to set foot
outside his own door, or to receive visits from non-Catholics. In the
spring of 1639, however, he was allowed to go back to his villa at
Gioiello, near Arcetri, and Milton obtained admission to him, old,
frail, and blind, but in full possession of his mental faculty.
There is observable in Milton, as Mr. Masson suggests, a prophetic
fascination of the fancy on the subject of blindness. And the deep
impression left by this sight of "the Tuscan artist" is evidenced by
the feeling with which Galileo's name and achievement are imbedded in
_Paradise Lost_.

From Florence, Milton crossed the Apennines by Bologna and Ferrara
to Venice. From this port he shipped for England the books he had
collected during his tour, books curious and rare as they seemed to
Phillips, and among them a chest or two of choice music books. The
month of April was spent at Venice, and bidding farewell to the
beloved land he would never visit again, Milton passed the Alps to
Geneva.

No Englishman's foreign pilgrimage was complete without touching at
this marvellous capital of the reformed faith, which with almost no
resources had successfully braved the whole might of the Catholic
reaction. The only record of Milton's stay at Geneva is the album of a
Neapolitan refugee, to which Milton contributed his autograph, under
date 10th June, 1639, with the following quotation:--

              If virtue feeble were,
              Heaven itself would stoop to her.
              (From _Comus_).

              Caelum non animum muto, dum trans mare curro.
              (From _Horace_.)

But it is probable that he was a guest in the house of one of the
leading pastors, Giovanni Diodati, whose nephew Charles, a physician
commencing practice in London, was Milton's bosom friend. Here Milton
first heard of the death, in the previous August, of that friend. It
was a heavy blow to him, for one of the chief pleasures of being at
home again would have been to pour into a sympathetic Italian ear the
story of his adventures. The sadness of the homeward journey from
Geneva is recorded for us in the _Epitaphium Damonis_. This piece is
an elegy to the memory of Charles Diodati. It unfortunately differs
from the elegy on King in being written in Latin, and is thus
inaccessible to uneducated readers. As to such readers the topic of
Milton's Latin poetry is necessarily an ungrateful subject, I
will dismiss it here with one remark. Milton's Latin verses are
distinguished from most Neo-latin verse by being a vehicle of real
emotion. His technical skill is said to have been surpassed by others;
but that in which he stands alone is, that in these exercises of
imitative art he is able to remain himself, and to give utterance to
genuine passion. Artificial Arcadianism is as much the frame-work of
the elegy on Diodati as it is of _Lycidas_. We have Daphnis and Bion,
Tityrus and Amyntas for characters, Sicilian valleys for scenery,
while Pan, Pales, and the Fauns represent the supernatural. The
shepherds defend their flocks from wolves and lions. But this
factitious bucolicism is pervaded by a pathos, which, like volcanic
heat, has fused into a new compound the dilapidated débris of the
Theocritean world. And in the Latin elegy there is more tenderness
than in the English. Charles Diodati was much nearer to Milton than
had been Edward King. The sorrow in _Lycidas_ is not so much personal
as it is the regret of the society of Christ's. King had only been
known to Milton as one of the students of the same college; Diodati
was the associate of his choice in riper manhood.

The _Epitaphium Damonis_ is further memorable as Milton's last attempt
in serious Latin verse. He discovered in this experiment that Latin
was not an adequate vehicle of the feeling he desired to give vent to.
In the concluding lines he takes a formal farewell of the Latian
muse, and announces his purpose of adopting henceforth the "harsh and
grating Brittonic idiom" (_Brittonicum stridens_).





_SECOND PERIOD_. 1640-1660.




CHAPTER IV.

EDUCATIONAL THEORY-TEACHING.


Milton was back in England in August, 1639. He had been absent a year
and three months, during which space of time the aspect of public
affairs, which had been perplexed and gloomy when he left, had been
growing still more ominous of a coming storm. The issues of the
controversy were so pervasive, that it was almost impossible for any
educated man who understood them not to range himself on a side. Yet
Milton, though he had broken off his projected tour in consequence,
did not rush into the fray on his return. He resumed his retired and
studious life, "with no small delight, cheerfully leaving," as he
says, "the event of public affairs first to God, and then to those to
whom the people had committed that task."

He did not return to Horton, but took lodgings in London, in the house
of Russel a tailor, in St. Bride's churchyard, at the city end of
Fleet-street, on the site of what is now Farringdon-street. There is
no attempt on the part of Milton to take up a profession, not even for
the sake of appearances. The elder Milton was content to provide the
son, of whom he was proud, with the means of prosecuting his eccentric
scheme of life, to continue, namely, to prepare himself for some great
work, nature unknown.

For a young man of simple habits and studious life a little suffices.
The chief want is books, and of these, for Milton's style of reading,
select rather than copious, a large collection is superfluous. There
were in 1640 no public libraries in London, and a scholar had to find
his own store of books or to borrow from his friends. Milton never
can have possessed a large library. At Horton he may have used
Kederminster's bequest to Langley Church. Still, with his Italian
acquisitions, added to the books that he already possessed, he soon
found a lodging too narrow for his accommodation, and removed to a
house of his own, "a pretty garden-house, in Aldersgate, at the end of
an entry." Aldersgate was outside the city walls, on the verge of the
open country of Islington, and was a genteel though not a fashionable
quarter. There were few streets in London, says Phillips, more free
from noise.

He had taken in hand the education of his two nephews, John and Edward
Phillips, sons of his only sister Anne. Anne was a few years older
than her brother John. Her first husband, Edward Phillips, had died in
1631, and the widow had given her two sons a stepfather in one Thomas
Agar, who was in the Clerk of the Crown's office. Milton, on settling
in London in 1639, had at once taken his younger nephew John to live
with him. When, in 1640, he removed to Aldersgate, the elder, Edward,
also came under his roof.

If it was affection for his sister which first moved Milton to
undertake the tuition of her sons, he soon developed a taste for the
occupation. In 1643 he began to receive into his house other pupils,
but only, says Phillips (who is solicitous that his uncle should not
be thought to have kept a school), "the sons of some gentlemen that
were his intimate friends." He threw into his lessons the same energy
which he carried into everything else. In his eagerness to find a
place for everything that could be learnt, there could have been few
hours in the day which were not invaded by teaching. He had exchanged
the contemplative leisure of Horton for a busy life, in which no hour
but had its calls. Even on Sundays there were lessons in the Greek
Testament and dictations of a system of Divinity in Latin. His
pamphlets of this period betray, in their want of measure and
equilibrium, even in their heated style and passion-flushed language,
the life at high pressure which their author was leading.

We have no account of Milton's method of teaching from any competent
pupil. Edward Phillips was an amiable and upright man, who earned his
living respectably by tuition and the compilation of books. He held
his uncle's memory in great veneration. But when he comes to
describe the education he received at his uncle's hands, the only
characteristic on which he dwells is that of quantity. Phillips's
account is, however, supplemented for us by Milton's written theory.
His _Tractate of Education to Master Samuel Hartlib_ is probably known
even to those who have never looked at anything else of Milton's in
prose.

Of all the practical arts, that of education seems the most cumbrous
in its method, and to be productive of the smallest results with the
most lavish expenditure of means. Hence the subject of education is
one which is always luring on the innovator and the theorist.
Every one, as he grows up, becomes aware of time lost, and effort
misapplied, in his own case. It is not unnatural to desire to save our
children from a like waste of power. And in a time such as was that
of Milton's youth, when all traditions were being questioned, and all
institutions were to be remodelled, it was certain that the school
would be among the earliest objects to attract an experimental
reformer. Among the advanced minds of the time there had grown up a
deep dissatisfaction with the received methods of our schools, and
more especially of our universities. The great instaurator of all
knowledge, Bacon, in preaching the necessity of altering the whole
method of knowing, included as matter of course the method of teaching
to know.

The man who carried over the Baconian aspiration into education was
Comenius (d. 1670). A projector and enthusiast, Comenius desired, like
Bacon, an entirely new intellectual era. With Bacon's intellectual
ambition, but without Bacon's capacity, Comenius proposed to
revolutionise all knowledge, and to make complete wisdom accessible to
all, in a brief space of time, and with a minimum of labour. Language
only as an instrument, not as an end in itself; many living languages,
instead of the one dead language of the old school; a knowledge of
things, instead of words; the free use of our eyes and ears upon the
nature that surrounds us; intelligent apprehension, instead of loading
the memory--all these doctrines, afterwards inherited by the party
of rational reform, were first promulgated in Europe by the numerous
pamphlets--some ninety have been reckoned up--of this Teuto-Slav,
Comenius.

Comenius had as the champion of his views in England Samuel Hartlib,
a Dantziger by origin, settled in London since 1628. Hartlib had even
less of real science than Comenius, but he was equally possessed by
the Baconian ideal of a new heaven and a new earth of knowledge. Not
himself a discoverer in any branch, he was unceasingly occupied in
communicating the discoveries and inventions of others. He had an ear
for every novelty of whatever kind, interesting himself in social,
religious, philanthropic schemes, as well as in experiments in the
arts. A sanguine universality of benevolence pervaded that generation
of ardent souls, akin only in their common anticipation of an unknown
Utopia. A secret was within the reach of human ingenuity which would
make all mankind happy. But there were two directions more especially
in which Hartlib's zeal without knowledge abounded. These were a grand
scheme for the union of Protestant Christendom, and his propagand of
Comenius's school-reform.

For the first of these projects it was not likely that Hartlib would
gain a proselyte in Milton, who had at one-and-twenty judged Anglican
orders a servitude, and was already chafing against the restraints of
Presbytery. But on his other hobby, that of school-reform, Milton was
not only sympathetic, but when Hartlib came to talk with him, he
found that most or all of Comenius's ideas had already independently
presented themselves to the reflection or experience of the
Englishman. At Hartlib's request Milton consented to put down his
thoughts on paper, and even to print them in a quarto pamphlet of
eight pages, entitled, _Of Education: to Master Samuel Hartlib_.

This tract, often reproduced and regarded, along with one of Locke's,
as a substantial contribution to the subject, must often have
grievously disappointed those who have eagerly consulted it for
practical hints or guidance of any kind. Its interest is wholly
biographical. It cannot be regarded as a valuable contribution to
educational theory, but it is strongly marked with the Miltonic
individuality. We find in it the same lofty conception of the aim
which Milton carried into everything he attempted; the same disdain of
the beaten routine, and proud reliance upon his own resources. He had
given vent elsewhere to his discontent with the system of Cambridge,
"which, as in the time of her better health, and mine own younger
judgment, I never greatly admired, so now (1642) much less." In the
letter to Hartlib he denounces with equal fierceness the schools and
"the many mistakes which have made learning generally so unpleasing
and so unsuccessful." The alumni of the universities carry away with
them a hatred and contempt for learning, and sink into "ignorantly
zealous" clergymen, or mercenary lawyers, while the men of fortune
betake themselves to feasts and jollity. These last, Milton thinks,
are the best of the three classes.

All these moral shipwrecks are the consequence, according to Milton,
of bad education. It is in our power to avert them by a reform of
schools. But the measures of reform, when produced, are ludicrously
incommensurable with the evils to be remedied. I do not trouble the
reader with the proposals; they are a form of the well-known mistake
of regarding education as merely the communication of useful
knowledge. The doctrine as propounded in the _Tractate_ is complicated
by the further difficulty, that the knowledge is to be gathered out of
Greek and Latin books. This doctrine is advocated by Milton with the
ardour of his own lofty enthusiasm. In virtue of the grandeur of zeal
which inspires them, these pages, which are in substance nothing more
than the now familiar omniscient examiner's programme, retain a place
as one of our classics. The fine definition of education here given
has never been improved upon: "I call a complete and generous
education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and
magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and
war." This is the true Milton. When he offers, in another page, as an
equivalent definition of the true end of learning, "to repair the ruin
of our first parents by regaining to know God aright," we have the
theological Milton, and what he took on from the current language of
his age.

Milton saw strongly, as many have done before and since, one weak
point in the practice of schools, namely, the small result of much
time. He fell into the natural error of the inexperienced teacher,
that of supposing that the remedy was the ingestion of much and
diversified intelligible matter. It requires much observation of
young minds to discover that the rapid inculcation of unassimilated
information stupefies the faculties instead of training them. Is it
fanciful to think that in Edward Phillips, who was always employing
his superficial pen upon topics with which he snatched a fugitive
acquaintance, we have a concrete example of the natural result of the
Miltonic system of instruction?





CHAPTER V.

MARRIAGE, AND PAMPHLETS ON DIVORCE


We have seen that Milton turned back from his unaccomplished tour
because he "deemed it disgraceful to be idling away his time abroad
for his own gratification, while his countrymen were contending for
their liberty." From these words biographers have inferred that he
hurried home with the view of taking service in the Parliamentarian
army. This interpretation of his words seems to receive confirmation
from what Phillips thinks he had heard,--"I am much mistaken if
there were not about this time a design in agitation of making him
Adjutant-General in Sir William Waller's army." Phillips very likely
thought that a recruit could enlist as an Adjutant-General, but
it does not appear from Milton's own words that he himself ever
contemplated service in the field. The words "contending for liberty"
(de libertate dimicarent) could not, as said of the winter 1638-39,
mean anything more than the strife of party. And when war did break
out, it must have been obvious to Milton that he could serve the cause
better as a scholar than as a soldier.

That he never took service in the army is certain. If there was a
time when he should have been found in the ranks, it was on the 12th
November, 1642, when every able-bodied citizen turned out to oppose
the march of the king, who had advanced to Brentford. But we have the
evidence of the sonnet--

    Captain, or Colonel, or Knight in arms,

that Milton, on this occasion, stayed at home. He had, as he announced
in February, 1642, "taken labour and intent study" to be his portion
in this life. He did not contemplate enlisting his pen in the service
of the Parliament, but the exaltation of his country's glory by the
composition of some monument of the English language, as Dante or
Tasso had done for Italian. But a project ambitious as this lay too
far off to be put in execution as soon as thought of. The ultimate
purpose had to give place to the immediate. One of these interludes,
originating in Milton's personal relations, was his series of tracts
on divorce.

In the early part of the summer of 1643, Milton took a sudden journey
into the country, "nobody about him certainly knowing the reason, or
that it was any more than a journey of recreation." He was absent
about a month, and when he returned he brought back a wife with him.
Nor was the bride alone. She was attended "by some few of her nearest
relations," and there was feasting and celebration of the nuptials, in
the house in Aldersgate-street.

The bride's name was Mary, eldest daughter of Richard Powell, Esq., of
Forest Hill, J.P. for the county of Oxford. Forest Hill is a village
and parish about five miles from Oxford on the Thame road, where Mr.
Powell had a house and a small estate of some 300 l. a year, value of
that day. Forest Hill was within the ancient royal forest of Shotover,
of which Mr. Powell was lessee. The reader will remember that the
poet's father was born at Stanton St. John, the adjoining parish
to Forest Hill, and that Richard Milton, the grandfather, had been
under-ranger of the royal forest. There had been many transactions
between the Milton and the Powell families as far back as 1627. In
paying a visit to that neighbourhood, Milton was both returning to the
district which had been the home of all the Miltons, and renewing an
old acquaintance with the Powell family. Mr. Powell, though in receipt
of a fair income for a country gentleman--300 l. a year of that day may
be roughly valued at 1000 l. of our day--and his wife had brought him
3000 l., could not live within his means. His children were numerous,
and, belonging as he did to the cavalier party, his house was
conducted with the careless hospitality of a royalist gentleman.
Twenty years before he had begun borrowing, and among other
persons had had recourse to the prosperous and saving scrivener of
Bread-street. He was already mortgaged to the Miltons, father and
sons, more deeply than his estate had any prospect of paying, which
was perhaps the reason why he found no difficulty in promising a
portion of 1000 l. with his daughter. Milton, with a poet's want
of caution, or indifference to money, and with a lofty masculine
disregard of the temper and character of the girl he asked to share
his life, came home with his bride in triumph, and held feasting in
celebration of his hasty and ill-considered choice. It was a beginning
of sorrows to him. Hitherto, up to his thirty-fifth year, independent
master of leisure and the delights of literature, his years had passed
without a check or a shadow. From this day forward domestic misery,
the importunities of business, the clamour of controversy, crowned by
the crushing calamity of blindness, were to be his portion for more
than thirty years. Singular among poets in the serene fortune of the
first half of life, in the second half his piteous fate was to rank in
wretchedness with that of his masters, Dante or Tasso.

The biographer, acquainted with the event, has no difficulty in
predicting it, and in saying at this point in his story, that Milton
might have known better than, with his puritanical connections, to
have taken to wife a daughter of a cavalier house, to have brought her
from a roystering home, frequented by the dissolute officers of the
Oxford garrison, to the spare diet and philosophical retirement of a
recluse student, and to have looked for sympathy and response for his
speculations from an uneducated and frivolous girl. Love has blinded,
and will continue to blind, the wisest men to calculations as easy and
as certain as these. And Milton, in whose soul Puritan austerity was
as yet only contending with the more genial currents of humanity, had
a far greater than average susceptibility to the charm of woman. Even
at the later date of _Paradise Lost_, voluptuous thoughts, as Mr.
Hallam has observed, are not uncongenial to him. And at an earlier
age his poems, candidly pure from the lascivious inuendoes of his
contemporaries, have preserved the record of the rapid impression of
the momentary passage of beauty upon his susceptible mind. Once, at
twenty, he was set all on flame by the casual meeting, in one of his
walks in the suburbs of London, with a damsel whom he never saw again.
Again, sonnets III. to V. tell how he fell before the new type of
foreign beauty which crossed his path at Bologna. A similar surprise
of his fancy at the expense of his judgment seems to have happened on
the present occasion of his visit to Shotover. There is no evidence
that Mary Powell was handsome, and we may be sure that it would
have been mentioned if she had been. But she had youth, and country
freshness; her "unliveliness and natural sloth unfit for conversation"
passed as "the bashful muteness of a virgin;" and if a doubt intruded
that he was being too hasty, Milton may have thought that a girl of
seventeen could be moulded at pleasure.

He was too soon undeceived. His dream of married happiness barely
lasted out the honeymoon. He found that he had mated himself to a
clod of earth, who not only was not now, but had not the capacity
of becoming, a helpmeet for him. With Milton, as with the whole
Calvinistic and Puritan Europe, woman was a creature of an inferior
and subordinate class. Man was the final cause of God's creation, and
woman was there to minister to this nobler being. In his dogmatic
treatise, _De doctrina Christiana_, Milton formulated this sentiment
in the thesis, borrowed from the schoolmen, that the soul was
communicated "in semine patris." The cavalier section of society had
inherited the sentiment of chivalry, and contrasted with the roundhead
not more by its loyalty to the person of the prince, than by its
recognition of the superior grace and refinement of womanhood. Even in
the debased and degenerate epoch of court life which followed 1660,
the forms and language of homage still preserved the tradition of a
nobler scheme of manners. The Puritan had thrown off chivalry as being
parcel of Catholicism, and had replaced it by the Hebrew ideal of the
subjection and seclusion of woman. Milton, in whose mind the rigidity
of Puritan doctrine was now contending with the freer spirit of
culture and romance, shows on the present occasion a like conflict of
doctrine with sentiment. While he adopts the oriental hypothesis of
woman for the sake of man, he modifies it by laying more stress upon
mutual affection, the charities of home, and the intercommunion of
intellectual and moral life, than upon that ministration of woman to
the appetite and comforts of man, which makes up the whole of her
functions in the Puritan apprehension. The failure in his own case to
obtain this genial companionship of soul, which he calls "the gentlest
end of marriage," is what gave the keenest edge to his disappointment
in his matrimonial venture.

But however keenly he felt and regretted the precipitancy which had
yoked him for life to "a mute and spiritless mate," the breach did not
come from his side. The girl herself conceived an equal repugnance to
the husband she had thoughtlessly accepted, probably on the strength
of his good looks, which was all of Milton that she was capable of
appreciating. A young bride, taken suddenly from the freedom of a
jovial and an undisciplined home, rendered more lax by civil confusion
and easy intercourse with the officers of the royalist garrison,
and committed to the sole society of a stranger, and that stranger
possessing the rights of a husband, and expecting much from all who
lived with him, may not unnaturally have been seized with panic
terror, and wished herself home again. The young Mrs. Milton not only
wished it, but incited her family to write and beg that she might be
allowed to go home to stay the remainder of the summer. The request to
quit her husband at the end of the first month was so unreasonable,
that the parents would hardly have made it if they had not suspected
some profound cause of estrangement. Nor could Milton have consented,
as he did, to so extreme a remedy unless he had felt that the case
required no less, and that her mother's advice and influence were the
most available means of awakening his wife to a sense of her duty,
Milton's consent was therefore given. He may hare thought it desirable
she should go, and thus Mrs. Powell would not have been going very
much beyond the truth when she pretended some years afterwards that
her son-in-law had turned away his wife for a long space.

Mary Milton went to Forest Hill in July, but on the understanding that
she was to come back at Michaelmas. When the appointed time came, she
did not appear. Milton wrote for her to come. No answer. Several other
letters met the same fate. At last he despatched a foot messenger
to Forest Hill desiring her return. The messenger came back only to
report that he had been "dismissed with some sort of contempt." It was
evident that Mary Milton's family had espoused her cause as against
her husband. Whatever may have been the secret motive of their
conduct, they explained the quarrel politically, and began to repent,
so Phillips thought, of having matched the eldest daughter of their
house with a violent Presbyterian.

If Milton had "hasted too eagerly to light the nuptial torch," he had
been equally ardent in his calculations of the domestic happiness upon
which he was to enter. His poet's imagination had invested a dull
and common girl with rare attributes moral and intellectual, and had
pictured for him the state of matrimony as an earthly paradise, in
which he was to be secure of a response of affection showing itself in
a communion of intelligent interests. In proportion to the brilliancy
of his ideal anticipation was the fury of despair which came upon him
when he found out his mistake. A common man, in a common age, would
have vented his vexation upon the individual. Milton, living at a time
when controversy turned away from details, and sought to dig down to
the roots of every question, instead of urging the hardships of his
own case, set to to consider the institution of marriage in itself. He
published a pamphlet with the title, _The Doctrine and Discipline
of Divorce_, at first anonymously, but putting his name to a second
edition, much enlarged. He further reinforced this argument in chief
with three supplementary pamphlets, partly in answer to opponents and
objectors; for there was no lack of opposition, indeed of outcry loud
and fierce.

A biographer closely scans the pages of these pamphlets, not for the
sake of their direct argument, but to see if he can extract from them
any indirect hints of their author's personal relations. There is
found in them no mention of Milton's individual case. Had we no other
information, we should not be authorised to infer from them that the
question of the marriage tie was more than an abstract question with
the author.

But though all mention of his own case is studiously avoided by
Milton, his pamphlet, when read by the light of Phillips's brief
narrative, does seem to give some assistance in apprehending the
circumstances of this obscure passage of the poet's life. The mystery
has always been felt by the biographers, but has assumed a darker hue
since the discovery by Mr. Masson of a copy of the first edition of
_The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce_, with the written date
of August 1. According to Phillips's narrative, the pamphlet was
engendered by Milton's indignation at his wife's contemptuous
treatment of him, in refusing to keep the engagement to return at
Michaelmas, and would therefore be composed in October and November,
time enough to allow for the sale of the edition, and the preparation
of the enlarged edition, which came out in February, 1644. But if the
date "August 1" for the first edition be correct, we have to suppose
that Milton was occupying himself with the composition of a vehement
and impassioned argument in favour of divorce for incompatibility of
temper, during the honeymoon! Such behaviour on Milton's part, he
being thirty-five, towards a girl of seventeen, to whom he was bound,
to show all loving tenderness, is so horrible, that a suggestion has
been made that there was a more adequate cause for his displeasure, a
suggestion, which Milton's biographer is bound to notice, even if he
does not adopt it. The suggestion, which I believe was first made by a
writer in the _Athenaeum_, is that Milton's young wife refused him
the consummation of the marriage. The supposition is founded upon a
certain passage in Milton's pamphlet.

If the early date of the pamphlet be the true date; if the _Doctrine
and Discipline_ was in the hands of the public on August 1 if Milton
was brooding over this seething agony of passion all through July,
with the young bride, to whom he had been barely wedded a month, in
the house where he was writing, then the only apology for this outrage
upon the charities, not to say decencies, of home is that which is
suggested by the passage referred to. Then the pamphlet, however
imprudent, becomes pardonable. It is a passionate cry from the depths
of a great despair; another evidence of the noble purity of a nature
which refused to console itself as other men would have consoled
themselves; a nature which, instead of an egotistical whine for its
own deliverance, sets itself to plead the common cause of man and of
society. He gives no intimation of any individual interest, but his
argument throughout glows with a white heat of concealed emotion, such
as could only he stirred by the sting of some personal and present
misery.

Notwithstanding the amount of free opinion abroad in England, or at
least in London, at this date, Milton's divorce pamphlets created a
sensation of that sort which Gibbon is fond of calling a scandal.
A scandal, in this sense, must always arise in your own party; you
cannot scandalise the enemy. And so it was now. The Episcopalians
were rejoiced that Milton should ruin his credit with his own side by
advocating a paradox. The Presbyterians hastened to disown a man who
enabled their opponents to brand their religious scheme as the parent
of moral heresies. For though church government and the English
constitution in all its parts had begun to be open questions,
speculation had not as yet attacked either of the two bases of
society, property or the family. Loud was the outcry of the
Philistines. There was no doubt that the rigid bonds of Presbyterian
orthodoxy would not in any case have long held Milton. They were
snapped at once by the publication of his opinions on divorce, and
Milton is henceforward to be ranked among the most independent of the
new party which shortly after this date began to be heard of under the
name of Independents.

But the men who formed the nucleus of this new mode of thinking were
as yet, in 1643, not consolidated into a sect, still less was their
importance as the coming political party dreamt of. At present they
were units, only drawn to each other by the sympathy of opinion. The
contemptuous epithets, Anabaptist, Antinomian, &c., could be levelled
against them with fatal effect by every Philistine, and were freely
used on this occasion against Milton. He says of himself that he now
lived in a world of disesteem. Nor was there wanting, to complete
his discomfiture, the practical parody of the doctrine of divorce.
A Mistress Attaway, lacewoman in Bell-alley, and she-preacher in.
Coleman-street, had been reading Master Milton's book, and remembered
that she had an unsanctified husband, who did not speak the language
of Canaan. She further reflected that Mr. Attaway was not only
unsanctified, but was also absent with the army, while William
Jenney was on the spot, and, like herself, also a preacher. Could a
"scandalised" Presbyterian help pointing the finger of triumphant
scorn at such examples, the natural fruits of that mischievous book,
_The Doctrine and Discipline_?

Beyond the stage of scandal and disesteem the matter did not proceed.
In dedicating _The Doctrine and Discipline_ to the Parliament, Milton
had specially called on that assembly to legislate for the relief of
men who were encumbered with unsuitable spouses. No notice was taken
of this appeal, as there was far other work on hand, and no particular
pressure from without in the direction of Milton's suit. Divorce for
incompatibility of temper remained his private crotchet, or obtained
converts only among his fellow-sufferers, who, however numerous, did
not form a body important enough to enforce by clamour their demand
for relief.

Milton was not very well pleased to find that the Parliament had no
ear for the bitter cry of distress wrung from their ardent admirer and
staunch adherent. Accordingly, in 1645, in dedicating the last of
the divorce pamphlets, which, he entitled _Tetrachordon_, to the
Parliament, he concluded with a threat, "If the law make not a
timely provision, let the law, as reason is, bear the censure of the
consequences."

This threat he was prepared to put in execution, and did, in 1645, as
Phillips tells us, contemplate a union, which could not have been a
marriage, with another woman. He was able at this time to find some
part of that solace of conversation which his wife failed to give him,
among his female acquaintance. Especially we find him at home in the
house of one of the Parliamentary women, the Lady Margaret Ley, a lady
"of great wit and ingenuity," the "honoured Margaret" of Sonnet x. But
the Lady Margaret was a married woman, being the wife of a Captain
Hobson, a "very accomplished gentleman," of the Isle of Wight. The
young lady who was the object of his attentions, and who, if she were
the "virtuous young lady" of Sonnet ix., was "in the prime of earliest
youth," was a daughter of a Dr. Davis, of whom nothing else is now
known. She is described by Phillips, who may have seen her, as a very
handsome and witty gentlewoman. Though Milton was ready to brave
public opinion. Miss Davis was not. And so the suit hung, when all
schemes of the kind were pat an end to by the unexpected submission of
Mary Powell.

Since October, 1643, when Milton's messenger had been dismissed
from Forest Hill, the face of the civil struggle was changed. The
Presbyterian army had been replaced by that of the Independents, and
the immediate consequence had been the decline of the royal cause,
consummated by its total ruin on the day of Naseby, in June, 1645.
Oxford was closely invested, Forest Hill occupied by the besiegers,
and the Powell family compelled to take refuge within the lines of
the city. Financial bankruptcy, too, had overtaken the Powells. These
influences, rather than any rumours which may hare reached them of
Milton's designs in regard to Miss Davis, wrought a change in the
views of the Powell family. By the triumph of the Independents Mr.
Milton was become a man of consideration, and might be useful as a
protector. They concluded that the best thing they could do was to
seek a reconciliation. There were not wanting friends of Milton's
also, some perhaps divining his secret discontent, who thought that
such reconciliation would be better for him too, than perilling his
happiness upon the experiment of an illegal connexion. A conspiracy of
the friends of both parties contrived to introduce Mary Powell into
a house where Milton often visited in St. Martin's-le-Grand. She was
secreted in an adjoining room, on an occasion when Milton was known
to be coming, and he was surprised by seeing her suddenly brought in,
throw herself on her knees, and ask to be forgiven. The poor young
thing, now two years older and wiser, but still only nineteen,
pleaded, truly or falsely, that her mother "had been all along the
chief promoter of her frowardness" Milton, with a "noble leonine
clemency" which became him, cared not for excuses for the past. It was
enough that she was come back, and was willing to live with him as his
wife. He received her at once, and not only her, but on the surrender
of Oxford, in June, 1646, and the sequestration of Forest Hill, took
in the whole family of Powells, including the mother-in-law, whose
influence with her daughter might even again trouble his peace.

It is impossible not to see that Milton had this impressive scene,
enacted in St. Martin's-le-Grand in 1645, before his mind, when he
wrote, twenty years afterwards, the lines in _Paradise Lost_, x.
937:--

        ... Eve, with tears that ceas'd not flowing
    And tresses all disorder'd, at his feet
    Fell humble, and embracing them, besought
    His peace...

                      ... Her lowly plight
    Immovable, till peace obtain'd from fault
    Acknowledg'd and deplor'd, in Adam wrought
    Commiseration; soon his heart relented
    Tow'rds her, his life so late and sole delight,
    Now at his feet submissive in distress!
    Creature so fair his reconcilement seeking,

       *       *       *       *       *

    At once disarm'd, his anger all he lost.

The garden-house in Aldersgate-street had before been found too small
for the pupils who were being now pressed upon Milton. It was to a
larger house in Barbican, a side street leading out of Aldersgate,
that he brought the Powells and Mary Milton. Milton probably abated
his exactions on the point of companionship, and learned to be content
with her acquiescence in the duties of a wife. In July, 1646, she
became a mother, and bore in all four children. Of these, three, all
daughters, lived to grow up. Mary Milton herself died in giving birth
to the fourth child in the summer of 1652. She was only twenty-six,
and had been married to Milton nine years.




CHAPTER VI

PAMPHLETS.


We have now seen Milton engaged in teaching and writing on education,
involved in domestic unhappiness, and speculating on the obligations
of marriage. But neither of these topics formed the principal
occupation of his mind during these years. He had renounced a
cherished scheme of travel because his countrymen were engaged at home
in contending for their liberties, and it could not but be that the
gradually intensified stages of that struggle engrossed his interest,
and claimed his participation.

So imperative did he regard this claim that he allowed it to override
the purposed dedication of his life to poetry. Not indeed for ever and
aye, but for a time. As he had renounced Greece, the Aegean Isles,
Thebes, and the East for the fight for freedom, so now to the same
cause he postponed the composition of his epic of Arthurian romance,
or whatever his mind "in the spacious circuits of her musing proposed
to herself of highest hope and hardest attempting." No doubt at first,
in thus deferring the work of his life, he thought the delay would be
for a brief space. He did not foresee that having once taken an oar,
he would be chained to it for more than twenty years, and that he
would finally owe his release to the ruin of the cause he had served.
But for the Restoration and the overthrow of the Puritans, we should
never have had the great Puritan epic.

The period then of his political activity is to be regarded as an
episode in the life of the poet Milton. It is indeed an episode which
fills twenty years, and those the most vigorous years of manhood, from
his thirty-second to his fifty-second year. He himself was conscious
of the sacrifice he was making, and apologises to the public for thus
defrauding them of the better work which he stood pledged to execute.
As he puts it, there was no choice for him. He could not help himself,
at this critical juncture, "when the Church of God was at the foot
of her insulting enemies;" he would never have ceased to reproach
himself, if he had refused to employ the fruits of his studies in her
behalf. He saw also that a generation inflamed by the passions of
conflict, and looking in breathless suspense for the issue of battles,
was not in a mood to attend to poetry. Nor, indeed, was he ready to
write, "not having yet (this is in 1642) completed to my mind the full
circle of my private studies."

But though he is drawn into the strife against his will, and in
defiance of his genius, when he is in it, he throws into it the whole
vehemence of his nature. The pamphlet period, I have said, is an
episode in the life of the poet. But it is a genuine part of Milton's
life. However his ambition may have been set upon an epic crown, his
zeal for what he calls the church was an equal passion, nay had, in
his judgment, a paramount claim upon him, He is a zealot among
the zealots; his cause is the cause of God; and the sword of the
Independents is the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. He does not
refute opponents, but curses enemies. Yet his rage, even when most
delirious, is always a Miltonic rage; it is grand, sublime, terrible!
Mingled with the scurrilities of the theological brawl are passages
of the noblest English ever written. Hartley Coleridge explains the
dulness of the wit-combats in Shakspeare and Jonson, on the ground
that repartee is the accomplishment of lighter thinkers and a less
earnest age. So of Milton's pamphlets it must be said that he was not
fencing for pastime, but fighting for all he held most worthy. He had
to think only of making his blows tell. When a battle is raging, and
my friends are sorely pressed, am I not to help because good manners
forbid the shedding of blood?

No good man can, with impunity, addict himself to party. And the best
men will suffer most, because their conviction of the goodness of
their cause is deeper. But when one with the sensibility of a poet
throws himself into the excitements of a struggle, he is certain to
lose his balance. The endowment of feeling and imagination which
qualifies him to be the ideal interpreter of life, unfits him
for participation in that real life, through the manoeuvres and
compromises of which reason is the only guide, and where imagination
is as much misplaced as it would be in a game of chess. "The ennobling
difference between one man and another is that one feels more than
another." Milton's capacity of emotion, when once he became champion
of a cause, could not be contained within the bounds of ordinary
speech. It breaks into ferocious reprobation, into terrific blasts of
vituperation, beneath which the very language creaks, as the timbers
of a ship in a storm. Corruptio optimi pessima. The archangel
is recognisable by the energy of his malice. Were all those
accomplishments; those many studious years hiving wisdom, the
knowledge of all the tongues, the command of all the thoughts of
all the ages, and that wealth of English expression--were all these
acquirements only of use, that their possessor might vie in defamation
with an Edwards or a Du Moulin?

For it should be noted that these pamphlets, now only serving as a
record of the prostitution of genius to political party, were, at the
time at which they appeared, of no use to the cause in which they
were written. Writers, with a professional tendency to magnify their
office, have always been given to exaggerate the effect of printed
words. There are examples of thought having been influenced by
books. But such books have been scientific, not rhetorical. Milton's
pamphlets are not works of speculation, or philosophy, or learning, or
solid reasoning on facts. They are inflammatory appeals, addressed to
the passions of the hour. He who was meditating the erection of an
enduring creation, such as the world "would not willingly let die,"
was content to occupy himself with the most ephemeral of all hackwork.
His own polemical writings may be justly described in the words he
himself uses of a book by one of his opponents, as calculated "to
gain a short, contemptible, and soon-fading reward, not to stir the
constancy and solid firmness of any wise man ... but to catch the
worthless approbation of an inconstant, irrational, and image-doting
rabble."

It would have been not unnatural that the public school and university
man, the admirer of Shakspeare and the old romances, the pet of
Italian academies, the poet-scholar, himself the author of two Masks,
who was nursing his wings for a new flight into the realms of verse,
should have sided with the cavaliers against the Puritans, with the
party of culture and the humanities against the party which shut up
the theatres and despised profane learning. But we have seen that
there was another side to Milton's mind. This may be spoken of as his
other self, the Puritan self, and regarded as in internal conflict
with the poet's self. His twenty years' pamphlet warfare may be
presented by his biographer as the expression of the Puritanic Milton,
who shall have been driven back upon his suppressed instincts as a
poet by the ruin of his political hopes. This chart of Milton's life
is at once simple and true. But like all physiological diagrams it
falls short of the subtlety and complexity of human character. A study
of the pamphlets will show that the poet is all there, indeed only too
openly for influence on opinion, and that the blighted hope of
the patriot lends a secret pathos to _Paradise Lost_ and _Samson
Agonistes_.

This other element in Milton is not accurately named Puritanism. Even
the term republicanism is a coarse and conventional description of
that sentiment which dominated his whole being, and which is the
inspiration at once of his poetry and of his prose. To give a name
to this sentiment, I must call it the love of liberty. It was an
aspiration at once real and vague, after a new order of things, an
order in which the old injustices and oppressions should cease; after
a new Jerusalem, a millennium, a Utopia, an Oceana. Its aim was to
realise in political institutions that great instauration of which
Bacon dreamed in the world of intelligence. It was much more negative
than affirmative, and knew better, as we all do, how good was hindered
than how it should be promoted. "I did but prompt the age to _quit
their clogs_." Milton embodied, more perfectly than any of his
cotemporaries, this spirit of the age. It is the ardent aspiration,
after the pure and noble life, the aspiration which stamps every line
he wrote, verse or prose, with a dignity as of an heroic age. This
gives consistency to all his utterances. The doctrinaire republican of
to-day cannot understand how the man who approved the execution of the
would-be despot Charles Stuart, should have been the hearty supporter
of the real autocrat Oliver Cromwell. Milton was not the slave of a
name. He cared not for the word republic, so as it was well with the
commonwealth. Parliaments or single rulers, he knew, are "but means
to an end; if that end was obtained, no matter if the constitutional
guarantees exist or not. Many of Milton's pamphlets are certainly
party pleadings, choleric, one-sided, personal. But through them all
runs the one redeeming characteristic--that they are all written
on the side of liberty. He defended religious liberty against the
prelates, civil liberty against the crown, the liberty of the
press against the executive, liberty of conscience against the
Presbyterians, and domestic liberty against the tyranny of canon law.
Milton's pamphlets might have been stamped with the motto which Selden
inscribed (in Greek) in all his books, "Liberty before everything."

One virtue these pamphlets possess, the virtue of style. They are
monuments of our language so remarkable that Milton's prose works must
always be resorted to by students, as long as English remains a medium
of ideas. Yet even on the score of style, Milton's prose is subject to
serious deductions. His negligence is such as to amount to an absence
of construction. He who, in his verse, trained the sentence with
delicate sensibility to follow his guiding hand into exquisite syntax,
seems in his prose writing to abandon his meaning to shift for itself.
Here Milton compares disadvantageously with Hooker. Hooker's elaborate
sentence, like the sentence of Demosthenes, is composed of parts
so hinged, of clauses so subordinated to the main thought, that we
foresee the end from the beginning, and close the period with a sense
of perfect roundness and totality. Milton does not seem to have any
notion of what a period means. He begins anywhere, and leaves off, not
when the sense closes, but when he is out of breath. We might have
thought this pell-mell huddle of his words was explained, if not
excused, by the exigencies of the party pamphlet, which cannot wait.
But the same asyntactle disorder is equally found in the _History of
Britain_, which he had in hand for forty years. Nor is it only the
Miltonic sentence which is incoherent; the whole arrangement of his
topics is equally loose, disjointed, and desultory. His inspiration
comes from impulse. Had he stayed to chastise his emotional writing by
reason and the laws of logic, he would have deprived himself of the
sources of his strength.

These serious faults are balanced by virtues of another kind. Putting
Bacon aside, the condensed force and poignant brevity of whose
aphoristic wisdom has no parallel in English, there is no other
prosaist who possesses anything like Milton's command over the
resources of our language. Milton cannot match the musical harmony and
exactly balanced periods of his predecessor Hooker. He is without
the power of varied illustration, and accumulation of ornamental
circumstance, possessed by his contemporary, Jeremy Taylor
(1613-1667). But neither of these great writers impresses the reader
with a sense of unlimited power such as we feel to reside in Milton.
Vast as is the wealth of magnificent words which he flings with both
hands carelessly upon the page, we feel that there is still much more
in reserve.

The critics have observed (Collier's _Poetical Decameron_) that as
Milton advanced in life he gradually disused the compound words he
had been in the habit of making for himself. However this may be, his
words are the words of one who made a study of the language, as a
poet studies language, searching its capacities for the expression of
surging emotion. Jeremy Taylor's prose is poetical prose. Milton's
prose is not poetical prose, but a different thing, the prose of a
poet; not like Taylor's, loaded with imagery on the outside; but
coloured by imagination from within. Milton is the first English
writer who, possessing in the ancient models a standard of the effect
which could be produced by choice of words, set himself to the
conscious study of our native tongue with a firm faith in its as yet
undeveloped powers as an instrument of thought.

The words in Milton's poems have been counted, and it appears that he
employs 8000, while Shakspeare's plays and poems yield about 15,000.
From this it might be inferred that the Miltonic vocabulary is only
half as rich as that of Shakspeare. But no inference can be founded
upon the absolute number of words used by any writer. We must know,
not the total of different words, but the _proportion_ of different
words to the whole of any writer's words. Now to furnish a list of
100 different words the English Bible requires 531 common words,
Shakspeare 164, Milton 135 only. This computation is founded on the
poems; it would be curious to have the same test tried upon the prose
writings, though no such test can be as trustworthy as the educated
ear of a listener to a continued reading.

It is no part of a succinct biography, such as the present, to furnish
an account in detail of the various controversies of the time, as
Milton engaged in them. The reader will doubtless be content with the,
bare indication of the subjects on which he wrote. The whole number of
Milton's political pamphlets Is twenty-five. Of these, twenty-one are
written in English, and four in Latin, Of the _Tractate of Education_
and the four divorce pamphlets something has been already said. Of the
remaining twenty, nine, or nearly half, relate to church government,
or ecclesiastical affairs; eight treat of the various crises of the
civil strife; and two are personal vindications of himself against one
of his antagonists. There remains one tract of which the subject is of
a more general and permanent nature, the best known of all the series,
_Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing, to the
Parliament of England_. The whole series of twenty-five extends over
a period of somewhat less than twenty years; the earliest, viz., _Of
Reformation touching Church Discipline in England, and the Causes that
hitherto have hindered it_, having been published in 1641; the latest,
entitled, _A ready and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth_,
coming out in March, 1660, after the torrent of royalism had set in,
which was to sweep away the men and the cause to which Milton had
devoted himself. Milton's pen thus accompanied the whole of the
Puritan revolution from the modest constitutional opposition in
which It commenced, through its unexpected triumph, to its crushing
overthrow by the royalist and clerical reaction.

The autumn of 1641 brought with it a sensible lull in the storm of
revolutionary passion. Indeed, there began to appear all the symptoms
of a reaction, and of the formation of a solid conservative party,
likely to be strong enough to check, or even to suppress, the
movement. The impulse seemed to have spent itself, and a desire for
rest from political agitation began to steal over the nation. Autumn
and the harvest turn men's thoughts towards country occupations and
sports. The King went off to Scotland in August; the Houses adjourned
till the 20th October. The Scottish army had been paid off, and had
repassed the border; the Scottish commissioners and preachers had left
London.

It was a critical moment for the Puritan party. Some very considerable
triumphs they had gained. The archenemy Strafford had been brought to
the block; Laud was in the tower; the leading members of Convocation,
bishops, deans, and archdeacons, had been heavily fined; the Star
Chamber and the High Commission Court had been abolished; the Stannary
and Forestal jurisdictions restrained. But the Puritan movement aimed
at far more than this. It was not only that the root-and-branch men
were pushing for a generally more levelling policy, but the whole
Puritan party was committed to a struggle with the hierarchy of the
Established Church. It was not so much that they demanded more and
more reform, with the growing appetite of revolution, but that as
long as bishops existed, nothing that had been wrested from them was
secure. The Puritans could not exist in safety side by side with
a church whose principle was that there was no church without the
apostolic succession. The abolition of episcopacy and the substitution
of the Presbyterian platform was, so it then seemed, a bare measure
of necessary precaution, and not merely the extravagant demand of
dissatisfied spirits. Add to this, that it was well understood by
those near enough to the principal actors in the drama, that the
concessions made by the Court had been easily made, because they could
be taken back, when the time should come, with equal ease. Even the
most moderate men, who were satisfied with the amount of reform
already obtained, must have trembled at its insecurity. The Puritan
leaders must have viewed with dismay the tendency in the nation
towards a reaction in favour of things as they were.

It was upon this condition of the public mind that Milton persistently
poured pamphlet after pamphlet, successive vials of apocalyptic wrath.
He exhausts all the resources of rhetoric, and plays upon every note
in the gamut of public feeling; that he may rouse the apathetic,
confirm the wavering, dumbfound the malignant; where there was zeal,
to fan it into flame; where there was opposition, to sow and browbeat
it by indignant scorn and terrific denunciation. The first of these
manifestoes was (1) _Of Reformation touching Church Discipline_, of
which I have already spoken. This was immediately followed by (2)
_Of Prelaticall Episcopacy_. This tract was a reply, in form, to a
publication of Archbishop Usher. It was about the end of May, 1641,
that Usher had come forward on the breach with his _Judgment of Dr.
Rainolds touching the Original of Episcopacy_, Rainolds, who had been
President of Corpus (1598-1607), had belonged to the Puritan party in
his day, had refused a bishopric, and was known, like Usher himself,
to be little favourable to the exclusive claims of the high
prelatists. He was thus an unexceptionable witness to adduce in
favour of the apostolic origin of the distinction between bishop and
presbyter. Usher, in editing Rainolds' opinions, had backed them up
with all the additional citations which his vast reading could supply.

Milton could not speak with the weight that attached to Usher, the
most learned Churchman of the age, who had spent eighteen years in
going through a complete course of fathers and councils. But, in the
first paragraph of his answer, Milton adroitly puts the controversy
upon a footing by which antiquarian research is put out of court.
Episcopacy is either of human or divine origin. If of human origin, it
may be either retained or abolished, as may be found expedient. If of
divine appointment, it must be proved to be so out of Scripture. If
this cannot be proved out of inspired Scripture, no accumulation of
merely human assertion of the point can be of the least authority.
Having thus shut out antiquity as evidence in the case, he proceeds
nevertheless to examine his opponent's authorities, and sets them
aside by a style of argument which has more of banter than of
criticism.

One incident of this collision between Milton, young and unknown, and
the venerable prelate, whom he was assaulting with the rude wantonness
of untempered youth, deserves to be mentioned here. Usher had
incautiously included the Ignatian epistles among his authorities.
This laid the most learned man of the day at the mercy of an adversary
of less reading than himself. Milton, who at least knew so much
suspicion of the genuineness of these remains as Casaubon's
_Exercitations on Baronius_ and Vedelin's edition (Geneva, 1623) could
suggest, pounced upon this critical flaw, and delightedly denounced
in trenchant tones this "Perkin Warbeck of Ignatius," and the
"supposititious offspring of some dozen epistles." This rude shock it
was which set Usher upon a more careful examination of the Ignatian
question. The result was his well-known edition of Ignatius, printed
1642, though not published till 1644, in which he acknowledged the
total spuriousness of nine epistles, and the partial interpolation of
the other six. I have not noticed in Usher's _Prolegomena_ that he
alludes to Milton's onslaught. Nor, indeed, was he called upon to
do so in a scientific investigation, as Milton had brought no
contribution to the solution of the question beyond sound and fury.

Of Milton's third pamphlet, entitled (3) _Animadversions on the
Remonstrants defence against Smectymnuus_, it need only be said that
it is a violent personal onfall upon Joseph Hall, bishop, first, of
Exeter and afterwards of Norwich. The bishop, by descending into the
arena of controversy, had deprived himself of the privilege which his
literary eminence should have secured to him. But nothing can excuse
or reconcile us to the indecent scurrility with which he is assailed
in Milton's pages, which reflect more discredit on him who wrote them,
than on him against whom they are written.

The fifth pamphlet, called (5) _An Apology against a Pamphlet called
"A Modest Confutation, &c."_ (1642), is chiefly remarkable for a
defence of his own Cambridge career. A man who throws dirt, as Milton
did, must not be surprised if some of it comes back to him. A son of
Bishop Hall, coming forward as his father's champion and avenger,
had raked up a garbled version of Milton's quarrel with his tutor
Chappell, and by a further distortion, had brought it out in the shape
that, "after an inordinate and violent youth spent at the university,"
Milton had been "vomited out thence." From the university this
"alchemist of slander" follows him to the city, and declares that
where Milton's morning haunts are, he wisses not, but that his
afternoons are spent in playhouses and bordelloes. Milton replies to
these random charges by a lengthy account of himself and his studious
habits. As the reader may expect a specimen of Milton's prose style, I
quote a part of this autobiographical paragraph:--

"I had my time, as others have who have good learning bestowed upon
them, to be sent to those places where the opinion was it might be
sooner attained; and, as the manner is, was not unstudied in those
authors which are most commended, whereof some were grave orators and
historians, whom methought I loved indeed, but as my age then was, so
I understood them; others were the smooth elegiac poets, whereof the
schools are not scarce; whom both for the pleasing sound of their
numerous writing, which in imitation I found most easy, and most
agreeable to nature's part in me, and for their matter, which what
it is there be few who know not, I was so allowed to read, that no
recreation came to me better welcome.... Whence having observed them
to account it the chief glory of their wit, in that they were ablest
to judge, to praise, and by that could esteem themselves worthiest to
love those high perfections which under one or other name they toot
to celebrate, I thought with myself by every instinct and presage of
nature which is not wont to be false, that what emboldened them to
this task might with such diligence as they used embolden me, and that
what judgment, wit, or elegance was my share, would herein best appear
and best value itself by how much more wisely and with more love of
virtue I should choose (let rude ears be absent) the object of
not unlike praises.... Nor blame it in those years to propose to
themselves such a reward as the noblest dispositions above other
things in this life have sometimes preferred. Whereof not to be
sensible when good and fair in one person meet, argues both a gross
and shallow judgment, and withal an ungentle and swainish breast.
For by the firm settling of these persuasions I became so much a
proficient, that if I found those authors anywhere speaking unworthy
things of themselves, or unchaste of those names which before they had
extolled, this effect it wrought with me, from that time forward their
art I still applauded, but the men I deplored; and above them all
preferred the two famous renowners of Beatrice and Laura, who never
write but honour of them to whom they devote their verse, displaying
sublime and pure thoughts without transgression. And long it was not
after, when I was confirmed in this opinion, that he, who would not
be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things,
ought himself to be a true poem, that is a composition and pattern of
the best and honourablest things, not presuming to sing high praises
of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in himself the
experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy.

"These reasonings together with a certain niceness of nature, an
honest haughtiness and self-esteem, either of what I was or what I
might be, which let envy call pride, and lastly that modesty, whereof,
though not in the title-page, yet here, I may be excused to make some
beseeming profession, all these uniting the supply of their natural
aid together, kept me still above those low descents of mind, beneath
which he must deject and plunge himself, that can agree to saleable
and unlawful prostitutions.

"Next, for hear me out now, readers, that I may tell ye whither my
younger feet wandered, I betook me among those lofty fables and
romances which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood
founded by our victorious kings, and from hence had in renown over
all Christendom. There I read it in the oath of every knight, that he
should defend to the expence of his best blood, or of his life if it
so befel him, the honour and chastity of virgin or matron. From whence
even then I learnt what a noble virtue chastity ever must be, to
the defence of which so many worthies by such a dear adventure of
themselves had sworn. And if I found in the story afterwards any of
them by word or deed breaking that oath, I judged it the same fault of
the poet as that which is attributed to Homer to have written undecent
things of the gods. Only this my mind gave me, that every free and
gentle spirit without that oath ought to be borne a knight, nor needed
to expect the gilt spur, or the laying of a sword upon his shoulder,
to stir him up both by his counsel and his arm to serve and protect
the weakness of any attempted chastity. So that even those books which
to many others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living, I
cannot think how unless by divine indulgence, proved to me so many
incitements to the love and steadfast observation of virtue."

This is one of the autobiographical cases in these pamphlets, which
are otherwise arid deserts of sand, scorched by the fire of extinct
passion. It may be asked why it is that a few men, Gibbon or Milton,
are indulged without challenge in talk about themselves, which would
be childish vanity or odious egotism in others. When a Frenchman
writes, "Nous avons tous, nous autres Français, des séduisantes
qualités"(Gaffarel), he is ridiculous. The difference is not merely
that we tolerate in a man of confessed superiority what would be
intolerable in an equal. This is true; but there is a further
distinction of moral quality in men's confessions. In Milton, as
in Gibbon, the gratification of self-love, which attends all
autobiography, is felt to be subordinated to a nobler intention.
The lofty conception which Milton formed of his vocation as a poet,
expands his soul and absorbs his personality. It is his office, and
not himself, which he magnifies. The details of his life and nurture
are important, not because they belong to him, but because he belongs,
by dedication, to a high and sacred calling. He is extremely jealous,
not of his own reputation, but of the credit which is due to lofty
endeavour. We have only to compare Milton's magnanimous assumption of
the first place with the paltry conceit with which, in the following
age of Dryden and Pope, men spoke of themselves as authors, to see
the wide difference between the professional vanity of successful
authorship and the proud consciousness of a prophetic mission. Milton
leads a dedicated life, and has laid down for himself the law that
"he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in
laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem."

If Milton had not been the author of _Lycidas_ and _Paradise Lost_,
his political pamphlets would have been as forgotten as are the
thousand civil war tracts preserved in the Thomason collection in
the Museum, or have served, at most, as philological landmarks. One,
however, of his prose tracts has continued to enjoy some degree of
credit down to the present time, for its matter as well as for its
words, _Areopagitica_. This tract belongs to the year 1644, the most
fertile year in Milton's life, as in it he "brought out two of his
divorce tracts, the _Tractate of Education_, and the _Areopagitica_.
As Milton's moving principle was not any preconceived system of
doctrine but the passion for liberty in general, it was natural that
he should plead, when occasion called, for liberty of the press, among
others. The occasion was one personal to himself.

It is well known that, early in the history of printing, governments
became jealous of this new instrument for influencing opinion. In
England, in 1556, under Mary, the Stationers' Company was invested
with legal privileges, having the twofold object of protecting the
book trade and controlling writers. All publications were required, to
be registered in the register of the company. No persons could set
up a press without a licence, or print anything which had not been
previously approved by some official censor. The court, which had
come to be known as the court of Star-chamber, exercised criminal
jurisdiction over offenders, and even issued its own decrees for the
regulation of printing. The arbitrary action of this court had no
small share in bringing about the resistance to Charles I. But the
fall of the royal authority did not mean the emancipation of the
press. The Parliament had no intention of letting go the control which
the monarchy had exercised; the incidence of the coercion was to be
shifted from themselves upon their opponents. The Star-chamber was
abolished, but its powers of search and seizure were transferred to
the Company of Stationers. Licensing was to go on as before, but to be
exercised by special commissioners, instead of by the Archbishop and
the Bishop of London. Only whereas, before, contraband had consisted
of Presbyterian books, henceforward it was Catholic and Anglican books
which would be suppressed.

Such was not Milton's idea of the liberty of thought and speech in a
free commonwealth. He had himself written for the Presbyterians four
unlicensed pamphlets. It was now open to him to write any number, and
to get them licensed, provided they were written on the same side.
This was not liberty, as he had learned it in his classics, "ubi
sentire quae velis, et quae sentias dicere licet." Over and above this
encroachment on the liberty of the free citizen, it so happened that
at this moment Milton himself was concerned to ventilate an
opinion which was not Presbyterian, and had no chance of passing a
Presbyterian licenser. His _Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce_ was
just ready for press when the ordinance of 1643 came into operation.
He published it without licence and without printer's name, in
defiance of the law, and awaited the consequences. There were no
consequences. He repeated the offence in a second edition in February,
1644, putting his name now (the first edition had been anonymous), and
dedicating it to the very Parliament whose ordinance he was setting
at nought. This time the Commons, stirred up by a petition from
the Company of Stationers, referred the matter to the committee of
printing. It went no further. Either it was deemed inexpedient
to molest so sound a Parliamentarian as Milton, or Cromwell's
"accommodation resolution" of September 13, 1644, opened the eyes of
the Presbyterian zealots to the existence in the kingdom of a new, and
much wider, phase of opinion, which ominously threatened the compact
little edifice of Presbyterian truth that they had been erecting with
a profound conviction of its exclusive orthodoxy.

The occurrence had been sufficient to give a new direction to Milton's
thoughts. Regardless of the fact that his plea for liberty in marriage
had fallen upon deaf ears, he would plead for liberty of speech. The
_Areopagitica, for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing_, came out in
November, 1644, an unlicensed, unregistered publication, without
printer's or bookseller's name. It was cast in the form of a speech
addressed to the Parliament. The motto was taken from Euripides, and
printed in the original Greek, which was not, when addressed to the
Parliament of 1644, the absurdity which it would be now. The title is
less appropriate, being borrowed from the _Areopagitic Discourse_ of
Isocrates, between which and Milton's _Speech_ there is no resemblance
either in subject or style. All that the two productions have in
common is their form. They are both unspoken orations, written to the
address of a representative assembly--the one to the Boulé or Senate
of Athens, the other to the Parliament of England.

Milton's _Speech_ is in his own best style; a copious flood of
majestic eloquence, the outpouring of a noble soul with a divine
scorn of narrow dogma and paltry aims. But it is a mere pamphlet,
extemporised in, at most, a month or two, without research or special
knowledge, with no attempt to ascertain general principles, and more
than Milton's usual disregard of method. A jurist's question, is here
handled by a rhetorician. He has preached a noble and heart-stirring
sermon on his text, but the problem for the legislator remains where
it was. The vagueness and confusion of the thoughts finds a vehicle
in language which is too often overcrowded and obscure. I think the
_Areopagitica_ has few or no offences against taste; on the other
hand, it has few or none of those grand passages which redeem the
scurrility of his political pamphlets. The passage in which Milton's
visit to Galileo "grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition," is
mentioned, is often quoted for its biographical interest; and the
terse dictum, "as good almost kill a man as kill a good book," has
passed into a current axiom. A paragraph at the close, where he hints
that the time may be come to suppress the suppressors, intimates, but
so obscurely as to be likely to escape notice, that Milton had already
made up his mind that a struggle with the Presbyterian party was to be
the sequel of the overthrow of the Royalists. He has not yet arrived
at the point he will hereafter reach, of rejecting the very idea of
a minister of religion, but he is already aggrieved by the implicit
faith which the Puritan laity, who had cast out bishops, were
beginning to bestow upon their pastor; "a factor to whose care and
credit he may commit the whole managing of his religious affairs."
Finally, it must be noted, that Milton, though he had come to see
round Presbyterianism, had not, in 1644, shaken off all dogmatic
profession. His toleration of opinion was far from complete. He
would call in the intervention of the executioner in the case of
"mischievous and libellous books," and could not bring himself to
contemplate the toleration of Popery and open superstition, "which as
it extirpates all religious and civil supremacies, so itself should be
extirpate; provided first that all charitable and compassionate means
be used to win and gain the weak and misled."

The _Areopagitica_, as might be expected, produced no effect upon the
legislation of the Long Parliament, of whom (says Hallam) "very
few acts of political wisdom or courage are recorded." Individual
licensers became more lax in the performance of the duty, but this is
reasonably to be ascribed to the growing spirit of independency--a
spirit which was incompatible with any embargo on the utterance of
private opinion. A curious epilogue to the history of this publication
is the fact, first brought to light by Mr. Masson, that the author of
the _Areopagitica_, at a later time, acted himself in the capacity of
licenser. It was in 1651, under the Commonwealth, Marchmont Needham
being editor of the weekly paper called _Mercurius Politicus_, that
Milton was associated with him as his censor or supervising editor.
Mr. Masson conjectures, with some probability, that the leading
articles of the _Mercurius_, during part of the year 1651, received
touches from Milton's hand. But this was, after all, rather in the
character of editor, whose business it is to see that nothing improper
goes into the paper, than in that of press licenser in the sense in
which the _Areopagitica_ had denounced it.




CHAPTER VII.

BIOGRAPHICAL. 1640--1649.


In September, 1645, Milton left the garden-house in Aldersgate, for
a larger house in Barbican, in the same neighbourhood, but a little
further from the city gate, i.e. more in the country. The larger house
was, perhaps, required for the accommodation of his pupils (see above,
p. 44), but it served to shelter his wife's family, when they were
thrown upon the world by the surrender of Oxford in June, 1646. In
this Barbican house Mr. Powell died at the end of that year. Milton
had been promised with his wife a portion of 1000 l.; but Mr. Powell's
affairs had long been in a very embarrassed condition, and now by the
consequences of delinquency that condition had become one of absolute
ruin. Great pains have been bestowed by Mr. Masson in unravelling the
entanglement of the Powell accounts. The data which remain are ample,
and we cannot but feel astonished at the accuracy with which our
national records, in more important matters so defective, enable us
to set out a debtor and creditor balance of the estate of a private
citizen, who died more than 200 years ago. But the circumstances
are peculiarly intricate, and we are still unable to reconcile Mr,
Powell's will with the composition records, both of which are extant.
As a compounding delinquent, his fine, assessed at the customary rate
of two years' income, was fixed by the commissioners at 180 l. The
commissioners must have, therefore, been satisfied that his income did
not exceed 90 l. a year. Yet by his will of date December 30, 1646, he
leaves his estate of Forest Hill, the annual value of which alone far
exceeded 90 l., to his eldest son. This property is not mentioned
in the inventory of his estate, real and personal, laid before the
commissioners, sworn to by the delinquent, and by them accepted. The
possible explanation is that the Forest Hill property had really
passed into the possession, by foreclosure, of the mortgagee, Sir
Robert Pye, who sate for Woodstock in the Long Parliament, but that
Mr. Powell, making his will on his deathbed, pleased himself with the
fancy of leaving his son and heir an estate which was no longer his to
dispose of. Putting Forest Hill out of the account, it would appear
that the sequestrators had dealt somewhat harshly with Mr. Powell; for
they had included in their estimate one doubtful asset of 500 l., and
one non-existent of 400 l. This last item was a stock of timber stated
to be at Forest Hill, but which had really been appropriated without
payment by the Parliamentarians, and part of it voted by Parliament
itself towards repair of the church in the staunch Puritan town of
Banbury.

The upshot of the whole transaction is that, in satisfaction of his
claim of 1500 l. (1000 l. his wife's dower, 500 l. an old loan of
1627), Milton came into possession of some property at Wheatley. This
property, consisting of the tithes of Wheatley, certain cottages,
and three and a half yard lands, had in the time of the disturbances
produced only 40 l. a year. But as the value of all property improved
when, the civil war came to an end, Milton found the whole could now
be let for 80 l. But then out of this he had to pay Mr. Powell's
composition, reduced to 130 l. on Milton's petition, and the widow's
jointure, computed at 26 l. 13 s. 4 d. per annum. What of income
remained after these disbursements he might apply towards repaying
himself the old loan of 1627. This was all Milton ever saw of the 1000
l. which Mr. Powell, with the high-flying magnificence of a cavalier
who knew he was ruined, had promised as his daughter's portion.

Mr. Powell's death was followed in less than three months by that of
John Milton, senior. He died in the house in Barbican, and the entry,
"John Milton, gentleman, 15 (March)," among the burials in 1646,
is still to be seen in the register of the parish of St. Giles's,
Cripplegate. A host of eminent men have traced the first impulse of
their genius to their mother. Milton always acknowledged with just
gratitude that it was to his father's discerning taste and fostering
care, that he owed the encouragement of his studies, and the leisure
which rendered them possible. He has registered this gratitude in both
prose and verse. The Latin hexameters, "Ad patrem," written at Horton,
are inspired by a feeling far beyond commonplace filial piety, and a
warmth which is rare indeed in neo-Latin versification. And when, in
his prose pamphlets, he has occasion to speak of himself, he does not
omit the acknowledgment of "the ceaseless diligence and care of my
father, whom God recompense." (_Reason of Church Government_.)

After the death of his father, being now more at ease in his
circumstances, he gave up taking pupils, and quitted the large house
in Barbican for a smaller in High Holborn, opening backwards into
Lincoln's-Inn-Fields. This removal was about Michaelmas, 1647.

During this period, 1639--1649, while his interests were engaged by
the all-absorbing events of the civil strife, he wrote no poetry,
or none deserving the name. All artists have intervals of
non-productiveness, usually caused by exhaustion. This was not
Milton's case. His genius was not his master, nor could it pass, like
that of Leonardo da Vinci, unmoved through the most tragic scenes. He
deliberately suspended it at the call of what he believed to be duty
to his country. His unrivalled power of expression was placed at the
service of a passionate political conviction. This prostitution of
faculty avenged itself; for when he did turn to poetry, his strength
was gone from him. The period is chiefly marked, by sonnets, not many,
one in a year, or thereabouts. That _On the religious memory of Mrs.
Catherine Thomson_, in 1646, is the lowest point touched by Milton in
poetry, for his metrical psalms do not deserve the name.

The sonnet, or Elegy on Mrs. Catherine Thomson in the form of a
sonnet, though in poetical merit not distinguishable from the
average religious verse of the Caroline age, has an interest for the
biographer. It breathes a holy calm that is in sharp contrast with the
angry virulence of the pamphlets, which were being written at this
very time by the same pen. Amid his intemperate denunciations of
his political and ecclesiastical foes, it seems that Milton did not
inwardly forfeit the peace which passeth all understanding. He had
formerly said himself (_Doctrine and Disc._), "nothing more than
disturbance of mind suspends us from approaching to God." Now, out of
all the clamour and the bitterness of the battle of the sects, he can
retire and be alone with his heavenly aspirations, which have lost
none of their ardour by having laid aside all their sectarianism. His
genius has forsaken him, but his soul still glows with the fervour
of devotion. And even of this sonnet we may say what Ellis says of
Catullus, that Milton never ceases to be a poet, even when his words
are most prosaic.

The sonnet (xv.) _On the Lord-General Fairfax, at the siege of
Colchester_, written in 1648, is again a manifesto of the writer's
political feelings, nobly uttered, and investing party with a
patriotic dignity not unworthy of the man, Milton. It is a hortatory
lyric, a trumpet-call to his party in the moment of victory to
remember the duties which that victory imposed upon them. It is not
without the splendid resonance of the Italian canzone. But it can
scarcely be called poetry, expressing, as it does, facts directly, and
not indirectly through their imaginative equivalents. Fairfax was,
doubtless, well worthy that Milton should have commemorated him in a
higher strain. Of Fairfax's eminent qualities the sonnet only dwells
on two, his personal valour, which had been tried in many fights--he
had been three times dangerously wounded in the Yorkshire
campaign--and his superiority to sordid interests. Of his generalship,
in which he was second to Cromwell only, and of his love of arts and
learning, nothing is said, though the last was the passion of his
life, for which at forty he renounced ambition. Perhaps in 1648
Milton, who lived a very retired life, did not know of these tastes,
and had not heard that it was by Fairfax's care that the Bodleian
library was saved from wreck on the surrender of Oxford in 1646. And
it was not till later, years after the sonnet was written, that the
same Fairfax, "whose name in arms through Europe rings," became a
competitor of Milton in the attempt to paraphrase the Psalms in metre.

Milton's paraphrase of the Psalms belongs to history, but to the
history of psalmody, not that of poetry. At St. Paul's School, at
fifteen, the boy had turned two psalms, the 114th and the 136th, by
way of exercise. That in his day of plenary inspiration, Milton, who
disdained Dryden as "a rhymist but no poet," and has recorded his own
impatience with the "drawling versifiers," should have undertaken
to grind down the noble antistrophic lyrics of the Hebrew bard
into ballad rhymes for the use of Puritan worship, would have been
impossible. But the idea of being useful to his country had acquired
exclusive possession of his mind. Even his faculty of verse should
be employed in the good cause. If Parliament had set him the task,
doubtless he would have willingly undertaken it, as Corneille, in the
blindness of Catholic obedience, versified the _Imitatio Christi_ at
the command of the Jesuits. Milton was not officially employed, but
voluntarily took up the work. The Puritans were bent upon substituting
a new version of the Davidic Psalms for that of Sternhold and Hopkins,
for no other reason than that the latter formed part of the hated Book
of Common Prayer. The Commons had pronounced in favour of a version by
one of their own members, the staunch Puritan M.P. for Truro, Francis
Rouse. The Lords favoured a rival book, and numerous other claimants
were before the public. Dissatisfied with any of these attempts,
Milton would essay himself. In 1648 he turned nine psalms, and
recurring to the task in 1653, "did into verse" eight more. He thought
these specimens worth preserving, and annexing to the volume of his
poems which he published himself in 1673. As this doggerel continues
to encumber each succeeding edition of the _Poetical Works_, it is as
well that Milton did not persevere with his experiment and produce a
complete Psalter. He prudently abandoned a task in which success is
impossible. A metrical psalm, being a compromise between the psalm and
the hymn, like other compromises, misses, rather than combines, the
distinctive excellences of the things united. That Milton should ever
have attempted what poetry forbids, is only another proof how entirely
at this period more absorbing motives had possession of his mind, and
overbore his poetical judgment. It is a coincidence worth remembering
that Milton's contemporary, Lord Clarendon, was at this very time
solacing his exile at Madrid by composing, not a version but a
commentary upon the Psalms, "applying those devotions to the troubles
of this time."

Yet all the while that he was thus unfaithful in practice to his art,
it was poetry that possessed his real affections, and the reputation
of a poet which formed his ambition. It was a temporary separation,
and not a divorce, which he designed. In each successive pamphlet he
reiterates his undertaking to redeem his pledge of a great work, as
soon as liberty shall be consolidated in the realm. Meanwhile, as an
earnest of what should be hereafter, he permitted the publication of a
collection of his early poems.

This little volume of some 200 pages, rude in execution as it is,
ranks among the highest prizes of the book collector, very few copies
being extant, and those mostly in public libraries. It appeared in
1645, and owed its appearance, not to the vanity of the author, but
to the zeal of a publisher. Humphrey Moseley, at the sign, of the
Prince's Arms, in St. Paul's Churchyard, suggested the collection to
Milton, and undertook the risk of it, though knowing, as he says
in the prefixed address of The Stationer to the Reader, that "the
slightest pamphlet is nowadays more vendible than the works of
learnedest men." It may create some surprise that, in 1645, there
should have been any public in England for a volume of verse. Naseby
had been fought in June, Philiphaugh in September, Fairfax and
Cromwell were continuing their victorious career in the west, Chester,
Worcester, and the stronghold of Oxford, alone holding out for the
King. It was clear that the conflict was decided in favour of the
Parliament, but men's minds must have been strung to a pitch of
intense expectation as to what kind of settlement was to come. Yet, at
the very crisis of the civil strife, we find a London publisher able
to bring out the Poems of Waller (1644), and sufficiently encouraged
by their reception to follow them up, in the next year, with the Poems
of Mr. John Milton. Are we warranted in inferring that a finer public
was beginning to loathe the dreary theological polemic of which it had
had a surfeit, and turned to a book of poetry as that which was
most unlike the daily garbage, just as a later public absorbed five
thousand copies of Scott's _Lay of the Last Minstrel_ in the year of
Austerlitz? One would like to know who were the purchasers of
Milton and Waller, when the cavalier families were being ruined by
confiscations and compositions, and Puritan families would turn with
pious horror from the very name of a Mask.

Milton was himself editor of his own volume, and prefixed to it, again
out of Virgil's Eclogues, the characteristic motto, "Baccare frontem
Cingite, ne vati noceat mala lingua _futuro_," indicating that his
poetry was all to come.




CHAPTER VIII.

THE LATIN SECRETARYSHIP.


The Crown having fallen on January 30, 1649, and the House of Lords by
the vote of February 6 following, the sovereign power in England was
for the moment in the hands of that fragment of the Long Parliament,
which remained after the various purges and expulsions to which it had
been subjected. Some of the excluded members were allowed to return,
and by occasional new elections in safe boroughs the number of members
was raised to one hundred and fifty, securing an average attendance of
about seventy. The future government of the nation was declared to be
by way of a republic, and the writs ran in the name of the Keepers
of the Liberty of England, by authority of Parliament. But the real
centre of power was the Council of State, a body of forty-one members,
nominated for a period of twelve months, according to a plan of
constitution devised by the army leaders. In the hands of this
republican Council was concentrated a combination of power such as had
never been wielded by any English monarch. But, though its attribution
of authority was great, its exercise of the powers lodged with it was
hampered by differences among its members, and the disaffection of
various interests and parties. The Council of State contained most of
the notable statesmen of the Parliamentary party, and had before it
a vast task in reorganizing the administration of England, in the
conduct of an actual war in Ireland, a possible war in Scotland, and
in the maintenance of the honour of the republic in its relations with
foreign princes.

The Council of State prepared the business for its consideration
through special committees for special departments of the public
service. The Committee for Foreign Affairs consisted of Whitelocke,
Vane, Lord Lisle, Lord Denbigh, Mr. Marten, Mr. Lisle. A secretary was
required to translate despatches, both those which were sent out, and
those which were received. Nothing seems more natural than that the
author of the _Tenure of Kings and Magistrates_, who was at once a
staunch Parliamentarian, an accomplished Latin scholar, and conversant
with more than one of the spoken languages of the Continent, should be
thought of for the office. Yet so little was Milton personally known,
living as he did the life of a retired student, that it was the
accident of his having the acquaintance of one of the new Council to
which he owed the appointment.

The post was offered him, but would he accept it? He had never ceased
to revolve in his mind subjects capable of poetical treatment, and
to cherish his own vocation as the classical poet of the English
language. Peace had come, and leisure was within his reach. He was
poor, but his wants were simple, and he had enough wherewith to meet
them. Already, in 1649, unmistakable symptoms threatened his sight,
and warned him of the necessity of the most rigid economy in the
use of the eyes. The duties that he was now asked to undertake were
indefinite already in amount, and would doubtless extend themselves if
zealously discharged.

But the temptation was strong, and he did not resist it. The increase
of income was, doubtless, to Milton the smallest among the inducements
now offered him. He had thought it a sufficient and an honourable
employment to serve his country with his pen as a volunteer. Here was
an offer to become her official, authorised servant, and to bear a
part, though a humble part, in the great work of reorganisation which
was now to be attempted. Above all other allurements to a retired
student, unversed in men, and ready to idealise character, was the
opportunity of becoming at once personally acquainted with all the
great men of the patriotic party, whom his ardent imagination had
invested with heroic qualities. The very names of Fairfax, Vane, and
Cromwell, called up in him emotions for which prose was an inadequate
vehicle. Nor was it only that in the Council itself he would be
in daily intercourse with such men as Henry Marten, Hutchinson,
Whitelocke, Harrington, St. John, Ludlow, but his position would
introduce him at once to all the members of the House who were worth
knowing. It was not merely a new world; it was _the_ world which was
here opened for the first time to Milton. And we must remember that,
all scholar as he was, Milton was well convinced of the truth that
there are other sources of knowledge besides books. He had himself
spent "many studious and contemplative years in the search of
religious and civil knowledge," yet he knew that, for a mind large
enough to "take in a general survey of humane things," it was
necessary to know--

    The world,... her glory,
    Empires and monarchs, and their radiant courts,
    Best school of best experience.

    _P.R._ iii. 237.

He had repeatedly, as if excusing his political interludes, renewed
his pledge to devote all his powers to poetry as soon, as they
should be fully ripe. To complete his education as a poet, he wanted
initiation into affairs. Here was an opening far beyond any he had
ever dreamed of. The sacrifice of time and precious eyesight which he
was to make was costly, but it was not pure waste; it would be partly
returned to him in a ripened experience in this

                                     Insight
    In all things to greatest actions lead,

He accepted the post at once without hesitation. On March 13, 1649,
the Committee for Foreign Affairs was directed to make the offer to
him; on March 15, he attended at Whitehall to be admitted to office.
Well would it have been both for his genius and his fame if he had
declined it. His genius might have reverted to its proper course,
while he was in the flower of age, with eyesight still available, and
a spirit exalted by the triumph of the good cause. His fame would
have been saved from the degrading incidents of the contention with
Salmasius and Morus, and from being tarnished by the obloquy of the
faction which he fought, and which conquered him. No man can with
impunity insult and trample upon his fellow-man, even in the best
of causes. Especially if he be an artist, he makes it impossible to
obtain equitable appreciation of his work.

So far as Milton reckoned upon a gain in experience from his
secretaryship, he doubtless reaped it. Such a probation could not be
passed without solidifying the judgment, and correcting its tendency
to error. And this school of affairs, which is indispensable for
the historian, may also be available for the poet. Yet it would be
difficult to point in Milton's subsequent poetry to any element which
the poet can be thought to have imbibed from the foreign secretary.
Where, as in Milton's two epics, and _Samson Agonistes_, the
personages are all supernatural or heroic, there is no room for the
employment of knowledge of the world. Had Milton written comedy, like
Molière, he might have said with Molière after he had been introduced
at court, "Je n'ai plus que faire d'étudier Plaute et Terence; je n'ai
qu'à étudier le monde."

The office into which Milton was now inducted is called in the Council
books that of "Secretary for foreign tongues." Its duties were chiefly
the translation of despatches from, and to, foreign governments. The
degree of estimation in which the Latin secretary was held, may be
measured by the amount of salary assigned him. For while the English
chief Secretary had a salary of 730 l. (= 2200 l. of our day), the
Latin Secretary was paid only 288 l. 13s. 6d. (= 900 l.). For this,
not very liberal pay, he was told that all his time was to be at the
disposal of the government. Lincoln's Inn Fields was too far off for a
servant of the Council who might have to attend meetings at seven in
the morning. He accordingly migrated to Charing Cross, now become
again Charing without the cross, this work of art having been an early
(1647) victim of religious barbarism. In November he was accommodated
with chambers in Whitehall. But from these he was soon ousted by
claimants more considerable or more importunate, and in 1651 he
removed to "a pretty garden-house" in Petty France, in Westminster,
next door to the Lord Scudamore's, and opening into St. James's Park.
The house was extant till 1877, when it disappeared, the last of
Milton's many London residences. It had long ceased to look into St.
James's Park, more than one row of houses, encroachments upon the
public park, having grown up between. The garden-house had become a
mere ordinary street house in York-street, only distinguished from the
squalid houses on either side of it by a tablet affixed by Bentham,
inscribed "sacred to Milton, prince of poets." Petty France lost its
designation in the French Revolution, in obedience to the childish
petulance which obliterates the name of any one who may displease you
at the moment, and became one of the seventeen York-streets of the
metropolis. Soon after the re-baptism of the street, Milton's house
was occupied by William Hazlitt, who rented it of Bentham. Milton had
lived in it for nine years, from 1651 till a few weeks before the
Restoration. Its nearness to Whitehall where the Council sat, was less
a convenience than a necessity.

For Milton's life now became one of close attention, and busy service.
As Latin secretary, and Weckherlin's successor, indeed, his proper
duties were only those of a clerk or translator. But his aptitude
for business of a literary kind soon drew on him a great variety of
employment. The demand for a Latin translation of a despatch was not
one of frequent occurrence. The Letters of the Parliament, and of
Oliver and Richard, Protectors, which are, intrusively, printed among
Milton's works, are but one hundred and thirty-seven in all. This
number is spread over ten years, being at the rate of about fourteen
per year; most of them are very short. For the purposes of a biography
of Milton, it is sufficient to observe, that the dignified attitude
which the Commonwealth took up towards foreign powers lost none of its
elevation in being conveyed in Miltonic Latin. Whether satisfaction
for the murder of an envoy is to be extorted from the arrogant court
of Madrid, or an apology is to be offered to a humble count of
Oldenburg for delay in issuing a salva-guardia which had been
promised, the same equable dignity of expression is maintained,
equally remote from crouching before the strong, and hectoring the
weak.

His translations were not all the duties of the new secretary. He must
often serve as interpreter at audiences of foreign envoys. He must
superintend the semi-official organ, the _Mercurius Politicus_.
He must answer the manifesto of the Presbyterians of Ireland. The
_Observations_ on the peace of Kilkenny are Milton's composition, but
from instructions. By the peace the Irish had obtained home rule in
its widest extent, release from the oath of supremacy, and the right
to tie their ploughs to the tail of the horse. The same peace also
conceded to them the militia, a trust which Charles I. had said he
would not devolve on the Parliament of England, "not for an hour!"
Milton is indignant that these indulgences, which had been refused to
their obedience, should have been extorted by their rebellion, and
the massacre of "200,000 Protestants". This is an exaggeration of a
butchery sufficiently tragic in its real proportions, and in a later
tract (_Eikonoklastes_) he reduces it to 154,000. Though the
savage Irish are barbarians, uncivilised and uncivilisable, the
_Observations_ distinctly affirm the new principle of toleration.
Though popery be a superstition, the death of all true religion, still
conscience is not within the cognisance of the magistrate. The civil
sword is to be employed against civil offences only. In adding that
the one exception to this toleration is atheism, Milton is careful to
state this limitation as being the toleration professed by Parliament,
and not as his private opinion.

So well satisfied were the Council with their secretary's
_Observations_ on the peace of Kilkenny, that they next imposed upon
him a far more important labour, a reply to the _Eikon Basiliké_. The
execution of Charles I. was not an act of vengeance, but a measure of
public safety. If, as Hallam affirms, there mingled in the motives of
the managers any strain of personal ill-will, this was merged in the
necessity of securing, themselves from the vengeance of the King, and
what they had gained from being taken back. They were alarmed by
the reaction which had set in, and had no choice but to strengthen
themselves by a daring policy. But the first effect of the removal of
the King by violence was to give a powerful stimulus to the reaction
already in progress. The groan, which burst from the spectators before
Whitehall on January 30, 1649, was only representative of the thrill
of horror which ran through England and Scotland in the next ten days.
This feeling found expression in a book entitled "_Eikon Basiliké_,
the portraiture of his sacred majesty in his solitude and sufferings."
The book was, it should seem, composed by Dr. Gauden, but professed
to be an authentic copy of papers written by the King. It is possible
that Gauden may have had in his hands some written scraps of the
King's meditations. If he had such, he only used them as hints to work
upon. Gauden was a churchman whom his friends might call liberal,
and his enemies time-serving. He was a churchman of the stamp of
Archbishop Williams, and preferred bishops and the Common-prayer to
presbyters and extempore sermons, but did not think the difference
between the two of the essence of religion. In better times Gauden
would have passed for broad, though his latitudinarianism was more the
result of love of ease than of philosophy. Though a royalist he sat in
the Westminster Assembly, and took the covenant, for which compliance
he nearly lost the reward which, after the Restoration, became his
due. Like the university-bred men of his day, Gauden was not a man of
ideas, but of style. In the present instance the idea was supplied
by events. The saint and martyr, the man of sorrows, praying for
his murderers, the King, who renounced an earthly kingdom to gain
a heavenly, and who in return for his benefits received from an
unthankful people a crown of thorns--this was the theme supplied to
the royalist advocate. Poet's imagination had never invented one more
calculated to touch the popular heart. This _imitatio Christi_ to
which every private Christian theoretically aspires, had been realised
by a true prince upon an actual scaffold with a graceful dignity of
demeanour, of which it may be said, that nothing in life became him
like the leaving it.

This moving situation Gauden, no mean stylist, set out in the best
academical language of the period. Frigid and artificial it may read
now, but the passion and pity, which is not in the book, was supplied
by the readers of the time. And men are not dainty as to phrase when
they meet with an expression of their own sentiments. The readers of
_Eikon Basilike_--and forty-seven editions were necessary to supply
the demand of a population of eight millions--attributed to the pages
of the book emotions raised in themselves by the tragic catastrophe.
They never doubted that the meditations were those of the royal
martyr, and held the book, in the words of Sir Edward Nicholas, for
"the most exquisite, pious, and princely piece ever written." The
Parliament thought themselves called upon to put forth a reply. If one
book could cause such a commotion of spirits, another book could allay
it--the ordinary illusion of those who do not consider that the vogue
of a printed appeal depends, not on the contents of the appeal, but on
a predisposition of the public temper.

Selden, the most learned man, not only of his party, but of
Englishmen, was first thought of, but the task was finally assigned
to the Latin Secretary. Milton's ready pen completed the answer,
_Eikonoklastes_, a quarto of 242 pages, before October, 1649. It
is, like all answers, worthless as a book. Eikonoklastes, the
Image-breaker, takes the Image, Eikon, paragraph by paragraph, turning
it round, and asserting the negative. To the Royalist view of the
points in dispute Milton opposes the Independent view. A refutation,
which follows each step of an adverse book, is necessarily devoid of
originality. But Milton is worse than tedious; his reply is in a tone
of rude railing and insolent swagger, which would have been always
unbecoming, but which at this moment was grossly indecent.

Milton must, however, be acquitted of one charge which has been made
against him, viz., that he taunts the king with his familiarity with
Shakespeare. The charge rests on a misunderstanding. In quoting
Richard III. in illustration of his own meaning, Milton, says, "I
shall not instance an abstruse author, wherein the King might be less
conversant, but one whom we well know was the closet companion of
these his solitudes, William Shakespeare." Though not an overt gibe,
there certainly lurks an insinuation to Milton's Puritan readers, to
whom stage plays were an abomination--an unworthy device of rhetoric,
as appealing to a superstition in others which the writer himself does
not share. In Milton's contemptuous reference to Sidney's _Arcadia_ as
a vain amatorious poem, we feel that the finer sense of the author of
_L'Allegro_ has suffered from immersion in the slough of religious and
political faction.

Gauden, raking up material from all quarters, had inserted in his
compilation a prayer taken from the _Arcadia_. Milton mercilessly
works this topic against his adversary. It is surprising that this
plagiarism from so well-known a book as the _Arcadia_ should not have
opened Milton's eyes to the unauthentic character of the _Eikon_. He
alludes, indeed, to a suspicion which was abroad that one of the royal
chaplains was a secret coadjutor. But he knew nothing of Gauden at the
time of writing the _Eikonoklastes_, and probably he never came to
know anything. The secret of the authorship of the _Eikon_ was well
kept, being known only to a very few persons--the two royal brothers,
Bishop Morley, the Earl of Bristol, and Clarendon. These were all safe
men, and Gauden was not likely to proclaim himself an impostor. He
pleaded his authorship, however, as a claim to preferment at the
Restoration, when the church spoils came to be partitioned among
the conquerors, and he received the bishopric of Exeter. A
bishopric--because less than the highest preferment could not
be offered to one whose pen had done such signal service; and
Exeter--because the poorest see (then valued at 500 l. a year) was good
enough for a man who had taken the covenant and complied with the
usurping government. By ceaseless importunity the author of the _Eikon
Basilike_ obtained afterwards the see of Worcester, while the portion
of the author of _Eikonoklastes_ was poverty, infamy, and calumny. A
century after Milton's death it was safe for the most popular writer
of the day to say that the prayer from the _Arcadia_ had been
interpolated in the _Eikon_ by Milton himself, and then by him charged
upon the King as a plagiarism (Johnson, _Lives of the Poets_.)




CHAPTER IX.

MILTON AND SALMASIUS.--BLINDNESS.


The mystery which long surrounded the authorship of _Eikon Basilike_
lends a literary interest to Milton's share in that controversy,
which does not belong to his next appearance in print. Besides, his
pamphlets against Salmasius and Morus are written in Latin, and to
the general reader in this country and in America inaccessible in
consequence. In Milton's day it was otherwise; the widest circle of
readers could only be reached through Latin. For this reason, when
Charles II. wanted a public vindication of his father's memory, it was
indispensable that it should be composed in that language. The _Eikon_
was accordingly turned into Latin, by one of the royal chaplains,
Earle, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury. But this was not enough; a
defence in form was necessary, an _Apologia Socratis_, such as Plato
composed for his master after his death. It must not only be written
in Latin, but in such Latin as to ensure its being read.

In 1649 Charles II. was living at the Hague, and it so happened that
the man, who was in the highest repute in all Europe as a Latinist,
was professor at the neighbouring university of Leyden. Salmasius
(Claude de Saumaise) was commissioned to prepare a manifesto, which
should be at once a vindication of Charles's memory, and an indictment
against the regicide government. Salmasius was a man of enormous
reading and no judgment. He says of himself that he wrote Latin more
easily than his mother-tongue (French). And his Latin was all the
more readable because it was not classical or idiomatic. With all his
reading--and Isaac Casaubon had said of him when in his teens that he
had incredible erudition--he was still, at sixty, quite unacquainted
with public affairs, and had neither the politician's tact necessary
to draw a state paper as Clarendon would have drawn it, nor the
literary tact which had enabled Erasmus to command the ear of the
public. Salmasius undertook his task as a professional advocate,
though without pay, and Milton accepted the duty of replying as
advocate for the Parliament, also without reward; he was fighting for
a cause which was not another's but his own.

Salmasius' _Defensio regia_--that was the title of his book--reached
this country before the end of 1649. The Council of State, in very
unnecessary alarm, issued a prohibition. On 8th January, 1650, the
Council ordered "that Mr. Milton do prepare something in answer to the
book of Salmasius." Early in March, 1651, Milton's answer, entitled
_Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio_, was out.

Milton was as much above Salmasius in mental power as he was inferior
to him in extent of book knowledge. But the conditions of retort which
he had chosen to accept neutralised this superiority. His greater
power was spent in a greater force of invective. Instead of setting
out the case of the Parliament in all the strength of which it was
capable, Milton is intent upon tripping up Salmasius, contradicting
him, and making him odious or ridiculous. He called his book a
_Defence of the People of England_; but when he should have been
justifying his clients from the charges of rebellion and regicide
before the bar of Europe, Milton is bending all his invention upon
personalities. He exaggerates the foibles of Salmasius, his vanity,
and the vanity of Madame de Saumaise, her ascendancy over her husband,
his narrow pedantry, his ignorance of everything but grammar and
words. He exhausts the Latin vocabulary of abuse to pile up every
epithet of contumely and execration on the head of his adversary. It
but amounts to calling Salmasius fool and knave through a couple of
hundred pages, till the exaggeration of the style defeats the orator's
purpose, and we end by regarding the whole, not as a serious pleading,
but as an epideictic display. Hobbes said truly that the two books
were "like two declamations, for and against, made by one and the same
man as a rhetorical exercise" (_Behemoth_).

Milton's _Defensio_ was not calculated to advance the cause of the
Parliament, and there is no evidence that it produced any effect upon
the public, beyond that of raising Milton's personal credit. That
England, and Puritan England, where humane studies were swamped in a
biblical brawl, should produce a man who could write Latin as well
as Salmasius, was a great surprise to the learned world in Holland.
Salmasius was unpopular at Leyden, and there was therefore a
predisposition to regard Milton's book with favour. Salmasius was
twenty years older than Milton, and in these literary digladiations
readers are always ready to side with a new writer. The contending
interests of the two great English parties, the wider issue between
republic and absolutism, the speculative inquiry into the right of
resistance, were lost sight of by the spectators of this literary
duel. The only question was whether Salmasius could beat the new
champion, or the new man beat Salmasius, at a match of vituperation.

Salmasius of course put in a rejoinder. His rapid pen found no
difficulty in turning off 300 pages of fluent Latin. It was his
last occupation. He died at Spa, where he was taking the waters, in
September, 1653, and his reply was not published till 1660, after the
Restoration, when all interest had died out of the controversy. If it
be true that the work was written at Spa, without books at hand, it
is certainly a miraculous effort of memory. It does no credit to
Salmasius. He had raked together, after the example of Scioppius
against Scaliger, all the tittle-tattle which the English exiles had
to retail about Milton and his antecedents. Bramhall, who bore Milton
a special grudge, was the channel of some of this scandal, and
Bramhall's source was possibly Chappell, the tutor with whom Milton
had had the early misunderstanding. (See above p. 6). If any one
thinks that classical studies of themselves cultivate the taste and
the sentiments, let him look into Salmasius's _Responsio_. There he
will see the first scholar of his age not thinking it unbecoming to
taunt Milton with his blindness, in such language as this: "a puppy,
once my pretty little man, now blear-eyed, or rather a blindling;
having never had any mental vision, he has now lost his bodily sight;
a silly coxcomb, fancying himself a beauty; an unclean beast, with
nothing more human about him than his guttering eyelids; the fittest
doom for him would be to hang him on the highest gallows, and set his
head on the Tower of London." These are some of the incivilities, not
by any means the most revolting, but such as I dare reproduce, of this
literary warfare.

Salmasius's taunt about Milton's venal pen is no less false than his
other gibes. The places of those who served the Commonwealth, were
places of "hard work and short rations." Milton never received for his
_Defensio_ a sixpence beyond his official salary. It has indeed been
asserted that he was paid 1000 l.. for it by order of Parliament,
and this falsehood having been adopted by Johnson--himself a
pensioner--has passed into all the biographies, and will no doubt
continue to be repeated to the end of time. This is a just nemesis
upon Milton, who on his part had twitted Salmasius with having been
complimented by the exiled King with a purse of 100 Jacobuses for his
performance. The one insinuation was as false as the other. Charles
II. was too poor to offer more than thanks. Milton was too proud to
receive for defending his country what the Parliament was willing to
pay. Sir Peter Wentworth, of Lillingston Lovell, in Oxfordshire, left
in his will 100 l. to Milton for his book against Salmasius. But this
was long after the Restoration, and Milton did not live to receive the
legacy.

Instead of receiving an honorarium for his _Defence of the English
People_, Milton had paid for it a sacrifice for which money could not
compensate him. His eyesight, though quick, as he was a proficient
with the rapier, had never been strong. His constant headaches, his
late study, and (thinks Phillips) his perpetual tampering with physic
to preserve his sight, concurred to bring the calamity upon him. It
had been steadily coming on for a dozen years before, and about 1650
the sight of the left eye was gone. He was warned by his doctor that
if he persisted in using the remaining eye for book-work, he would
lose that too. "The choice lay before me," Milton writes in the
_Second Defence_, "between dereliction of a supreme duty and loss of
eyesight; in such a case I could not listen to the physician, not if
Aesculapius himself had spoken from his sanctuary; I could not but
obey that inward monitor, I know not what, that spake to me from
heaven. I considered with myself that many had purchased less good
with worse ill, as they who give their lives to reap only glory, and I
thereupon concluded to employ the little remaining eyesight I was to
enjoy in doing this, the greatest service to the common weal it was in
my power to render."

It was about the early part of the year 1652 that the calamity was
consummated. At the age of forty-three he was in total darkness.
The deprivation of sight, one of the severest afflictions of which
humanity is capable, falls more heavily on the man whose occupation
lies among books, than upon others. He who has most to lose, loses
most. To most persons books are but an amusement, an interlude between
the hours of serious occupation. The scholar is he who has found the
key to knowledge, and knows his way about in the world of printed
books. To find this key, to learn the map of this country, requires a
long apprenticeship. This is a point few men can hope to reach much
before the age of forty. Milton had attained it only to find fruition
snatched from him. He had barely time to spell one line in the book of
wisdom, before, like the wizard's volume in romance, it was hopelessly
closed against him for ever. Any human being is shut out by loss
of sight from accustomed pleasures, the scholar is shut out from
knowledge. Shut out at forty-three, when his great work was not even
begun! He consoles himself with the fancy that in his pamphlet, the
_Defensio_, he had done a great work (_quanta maxima quivi_) for
his country. This poor delusion helped him doubtless to support his
calamity. He could not foresee that, in less than ten years, the great
work would he totally annihilated, his pamphlet would he merged in the
obsolete mass of civil war tracts, and the _Defensio_, on which he had
expended his last year of eyesight, only mentioned because it had been
written by the author of _Paradise Lost_.

The nature of Milton's disease is not ascertainable from the account
he has given of it. In the well-known passage of _Paradise Lost_,
iii. 25, he hesitates between amaurosis (drop serene) and cataract
(suffusion)

    So thick a drop serene hath quench'd their orbs,
    Or dim suffusion veil'd.

A medical friend referred to by Professor Alfred Stern, tells him that
some of the symptoms are more like glaucoma. Milton himself has left
such an account as a patient ignorant of the anatomy of the organ
could give. It throws no light on the nature of the malady. But it is
characteristic of Milton that even his affliction does not destroy his
solicitude about his personal appearance. The taunts of his enemies
about "the lack-lustre eye, guttering with prevalent rheum" did not
pass unfelt. In his _Second Defence_ Milton informs the world that his
eyes "are externally uninjured. They shine with an unclouded light,
just like the eyes of one whose vision is perfect. This is the only
point in which I am, against my will, a hypocrite." The vindication
appears again in Sonnet xix. "These eyes, though clear To outward view
of blemish or of spot." In later years, when the exordium of Book
iii. of _Paradise Lost_ was composed, in the pathetic story of
his blindness, this little touch of vanity has disappeared, as
incompatible with the solemn dignity of the occasion.




CHAPTER X.

MILTON AND MORUS--THE SECOND DEFENCE--THE DEFENCE FOR HIMSELF.


Civil history is largely a history of wars between states, and
literary history is no less the record of quarrels in print between
jealous authors. Poets and artists, more susceptible than practical
men, seem to live a life of perpetual wrangle. The history of these
petty feuds is not healthy intellectual food, it is at best amusing
scandal. But these quarrels of authors do not degrade the authors in
our eyes, they only show them to be, what we knew, as vain, irritable,
and opinionative as other men. Ben Jonson, Dryden, Pope, Voltaire,
Rousseau, belabour their enemies, and we see nothing incongruous in
their doing so. It is not so when the awful majesty of Milton descends
from the empyrean throne of contemplation to use the language of the
gutter or the fish-market. The bathos is unthinkable. The universal
intellect of Bacon shrank to the paltry pursuit of place. The
disproportion between the intellectual capaciousness and the moral
aim jars upon the sense of fitness, and the name of Bacon, "wisest,
meanest," has passed into a proverb. Milton's fall is far worse. It is
not here a union of grasp of mind with an ignoble ambition, but the
plunge of the moral nature itself from the highest heights to that
despicable region of vulgar scurrility and libel, which is below the
level of average gentility and education. The name of Milton is a
synonym for sublimity. He has endowed our language with the loftiest
and noblest poetry it possesses, and the same man is found employing
speech for the most unworthy purpose to which it can be put, that of
defaming and vilifying a personal enemy, and an enemy so mean that
barely to have been mentioned by Milton had been an honour to him. In
Salmasius, Milton had at least been measuring his Latin against the
Latin of the first classicist of the age. In Alexander Morus he
wreaked august periods of Roman eloquence upon a vagabond preacher, of
chance fortunes and tarnished reputation, a _graeculus esuriens_,
who appeared against Milton by the turn of accidents, and not as the
representative of the opposite principle. In crushing Morus, Milton
could not beguile himself with the idea that he was serving a cause.

In 1652 our country began to reap the fruits of the costly efforts it
had made to obtain good government. A central authority was at last
established, stronger than any which had existed since Elisabeth,
and one which extended over Scotland and Ireland, no less than over
England. The ecclesiastical and dynastic aims of the Stuart monarchy
had been replaced by a national policy, in which the interests of
the people of Great Britain sprang to the first place. The immediate
consequence of this union of vigour and patriotism, in the government,
was the self-assertion of England as a commercial, and therefore as a
naval power. This awakened spirit of conscious strength meant war with
the Dutch, who while England was pursuing ecclesiastical ends, had
possessed themselves of the trade of the world. War accordingly broke
out early in 1652. Even before it came to real fighting, the war of
pamphlets had recommenced. The prohibition of Salmasius' _Defensio
regia_ annulled itself as a matter of course, and Salmasius was free
to prepare a second _Defensio_ in answer to Milton. For the most
vulnerable point of the new English Commonwealth, was through the
odium excited on the continent against regicide. And the quarter
from which the monarchical pamphlets were hurled against the English
republic, was the press of the republic of the United Provinces,
the country which had set the first example of successful rebellion
against its lawful prince.

Before Salmasius' reply was ready, there was launched from the Hague,
in March, 1652, a virulent royalist piece in Latin, under the title of
_Regii sanguinis clamor ad coelum_ (Cry of the King's blood to Heaven
against the English parricides). Its 160 pages contained the
usual royalist invective in a rather common style of hyperbolical
declamation, such as that "in comparison of the execution of Charles
I., the guilt of the Jews in crucifying Christ was as nothing."
Exaggerated praises of Salmasius were followed by scurrilous and rabid
abuse of Milton. In the style of the most shameless Jesuit lampoon,
the _Amphitheatrum_ or the _Scaliger hypobolimaeus_, and with Jesuit
tactics, every odious crime is imputed to the object of the satire,
without regard to truth or probability. Exiles are proverbially
credulous, and it is likely enough that the gossip of the English
refugees at the Hague was much employed in improving or inventing
stories about the man, who had dared to answer the royalist champion
in Latin as good as his own. Salmasius in his _Defensio_ had employed
these stories, distorting the events of Milton's life to discredit
him. But for the author of the _Clamor_ there was no such excuse, for
the book was composed in England, by an author living in Oxford and
London, who had every opportunity for informing himself accurately of
the facts about Milton's life and conversation. He chose rather to
heap up at random the traditional vocabulary of defamation, which the
Catholic theologians had employed for some generations past, as their
best weapon against their adversaries. In these infamous productions,
hatched by celibate pedants in the foul atmosphere of the Jesuit
colleges, the gamut of charges always ranges from bad grammar to
unnatural crime. The only circumstance which can be alleged in
mitigation of the excesses of the _Regii sanguinis clamor_ is that
Milton had provoked the onfall by his own violence. He who throws dirt
must expect that dirt will be thrown back at him, and when it comes to
mud-throwing, the blackguard has, as it is right that he should have,
the best of it.

The author of the _Clamor_ was Peter Du Moulin, a son of the
celebrated French Calvinist preacher of the same name. The author not
daring to entrust his pamphlet to an English press, had sent it over
to Holland, where it was printed under the supervision of Alexander
Morus. This Morus (More or Moir) was of Scottish parentage, but born
(1616) at Castres, where his father was principal of the Protestant
college. Morus fitted the _Clamor_ with a preface, in which Milton was
further reviled, and styled a "monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens,
cui lumen ademtum." The secret of the authorship was strictly kept,
and Morus having been known to be concerned in the publication, was
soon transformed in public belief into the author. So it was reported
to Milton, and so Milton believed. He nursed his wrath, and took
two years to meditate his blow. He caused inquiries to be made into
Morus's antecedents. It happened that Morus's conduct had been wanting
in discretion, especially in his relations with women. He had been
equally imprudent in his utterances on some of the certainties of
Calvinistic divinity. It was easy to collect any amount of evidence
under both these heads. The system of kirk discipline offered a
ready-made machinery of espionage and delation. The standing jest of
the fifteenth century on the "governante" of the curé was replaced, in
Calvinistic countries, by the anxiety of every minister to detect his
brother minister in any intimacy upon which a scandalous construction
could be put.

Morus endeavoured, through every channel at his command, to convince
Milton that he was not the author of the _Clamor_. He could have saved
himself by revealing the real author, who was lurking all the while
close to Milton's elbow, and whose safety depended on Morus' silence.
This high-minded respect for another's secret is more to Morus'
honour, than any of the petty gossip about him is to his discredit.
He had nothing to offer, therefore, but negative assurances, and mere
denial weighed nothing with Milton, who was fully convinced that Morus
lied from terror. Milton's _Defensio Secunda_ came out in May, 1654.
In this piece (written in Latin) Morus is throughout assumed to be the
author of the _Clamor_, and as such is pursued through many pages in
a strain of invective, in which banter is mingled with ferocity. The
Hague tittle-tattle about Morus's love-affairs is set forth in the
pomp of Milton's loftiest Latin. Sonorous periods could hardly be more
disproportioned to their material content. To have kissed a girl is
painted as the blackest of crimes. The sublime and the ridiculous are
here blended without the step between. Milton descends even to abuse
the publisher, Vlac, who had officially signed his name to Morus's
preface. The mixture of fanatical choler and grotesque jocularity, in
which he rolls forth his charges of incontinence against Morus, and of
petty knavery against Vlac, is only saved from being unseemly by being
ridiculous. The comedy is complete when we remember that Morus had not
written the _Clamor_, nor Vlac the preface. Milton's rage blinded him;
he is mad Ajax castigating innocent sheep instead of Achsaeans.

The Latin pamphlets are indispensable to a knowledge of Milton's
disposition. We see in them his grand disdain of his opponents,
reproducing the concentrated intellectual scorn of the Latin Persius;
his certainty of the absolute justice of his own cause, and the purity
of his own motives. This lofty cast of thought is combined with an
eagerness to answer the meanest taunts. The intense subjectivity
of the poet breaks out in these paragraphs, and while he should be
stating the case of the republic, he holds Europe listening to an
account of himself, his accomplishments, his studies and travels,
his stature, the colour of his eyes, his skill in fencing, &c. These
egoistic utterances must have seemed to Milton's contemporaries to be
intrusive and irrelevant vanity. _Paradise Lost_ was not as yet, and
to the Council of State Milton was, what he was to Whitelocke, "a
blind man who wrote Latin." But these paragraphs, in which he talks
of himself, are to us the only living fragments out of many hundred
worthless pages.

To the _Defensio Secunda_ there was of course a reply by Morus. It
was entitled _Fides Publica_, because it was largely composed of
testimonials to character. When one priest charges another with
unchastity, the world looks on and laughs. But it is no laughing
matter to the defendant in such an action. He can always bring
exculpatory evidence, and in spite of any evidence he is always
believed to be guilty. The effect of Milton's furious denunciation of
Morus had been to damage his credit in religious circles, and to make
mothers of families shy of allowing him to visit at their houses.

Milton might have been content with a victory which, as Gibbon said
of his own, "over such an antagonist was a sufficient humiliation."
Milton's magnanimity was no match for his irritation. He published
a rejoinder to Morus's _Fides Publica_, reiterating his belief that
Morus was author of the _Clamor_, but that it was no matter whether
he was or not, since by publishing the book, and furnishing it with a
recommendatory preface, he had made it his own. The charges against
Morus' character he reiterated, and strengthened by new "facts", which
Morus's enemies had hastened to contribute to the budget of
calumny. These imputations on character, mixed with insinuations of
unorthodoxy, such as are ever rife in clerical controversy, Milton
invests with the moral indignation of a prophet denouncing the enemies
of Jehovah. He expends a wealth of vituperative Latin which makes us
tremble, till we remember that it is put in motion to crush an insect.

This _Pro se defensio_ (Defence for himself), appeared in August,
1656. Morus met it by a supplementary _Fides Publica_, and Milton,
resolved to have the last word, met him by a _Supplement to the
Defence_. The reader will be glad to hear that this is the end of the
Morus controversy. We leave Milton's victim buried under the mountains
of opprobrious Latin here heaped upon him--this "circumforanens
pharmacopola, vanissimus circulator, propudium hominis et
prostibulum."




CHAPTER XI.

LATIN SECRETARYSHIP COMES TO AN END--MILTON'S FRIENDS.


It is no part of Milton's biography to relate the course of public
events in these momentous years, merely because as Latin secretary
he formulated the despatches of the Protector or of his Council, and
because these Latin letters are incorporated in Milton's works. On the
course of affairs Milton's voice had no influence, as he had no part
in their transaction. Milton was the last man of whom a practical
politician would have sought advice. He knew nothing of the temper of
the nation, and treated all that opposed his own view with supreme
disdain. On the other hand, idealist though he was, he does not
move in the sphere of speculative politics, or count among those
philosophic names, a few in each century, who have influenced, not
action but thought. Accordingly his opinions have for us a purely
personal interest. They are part of the character of the poet Milton,
and do not belong to either world, of action or of mind.

The course of his political convictions up to 1654 has been traced in
our narrative thus far. His breeding at home, at school, at college,
was that of a member of the Established Church, but of the Puritan and
Calvinistic, not of the Laudian and Arminian, party within its
pale. By 1641, we find that his Puritanism has developed into
Presbyterianism; he desires, not to destroy the Church, but to reform
it by abolishing government by bishops, and substituting the Scotch or
Genevan discipline. When he wrote his _Reason of Church Government_
(1642), he is still a royalist; not in the cavalier sense of a person
attached to the reigning sovereign, or the Stuart family, but still
retaining the belief of his age that monarchy in the abstract had
somewhat of divine sanction. Before 1649, the divine right of
monarchy, and the claim of Presbytery to be scriptural, have yielded
in his mind to a wider conception of the rights of the man and the
Christian. To use the party names of the time, Milton the Presbyterian
has expanded into Milton the Independent. There is to be no State
Church, and instead of a monarchy there is to be a commonwealth.
Very soon the situation developes the important question how this
commonwealth shall be administered--whether by a representative
assembly, or by a picked council, or a single governor. This question
was put to a test in the Parliament of 1654. The experiment of a
representative assembly, begun in September 1654, broke down in
January 1655. Before it was tried we find Milton in his _Second
Defence_, in May 1654, recommending Cromwell to govern not by a
Parliament, but by a council of officers; i.e. he is a commonwealth's
man. Arrived at this point, would Milton take his stand upon
doctrinaire republicanism, and lose sight of liberty in the attempt
to secure equality, as his friends Vane, Overton, Bradshaw would have
done? Or would his idealist exaltation sweep him on into some one of
the current fanaticisms, Leveller, Fifth Monarchy, or Muggletonian?
Unpractical as he was, he was close enough to State affairs as Latin
Secretary, to see that personal government by the Protector was,
at the moment, the only solution. If the liberties that had been
conquered by the sword were to be maintained, between levelling chaos
on the one hand, and royalist reaction on the other, it was the
Protector alone to whom those who prized liberty above party names
could look. Accordingly Milton may be regarded from the year 1654
onwards as an Oliverian, though with particular reservations. He
saw--it was impossible for a man in his situation not to see--the
unavoidable necessity which forced Cromwell, at this moment, to
undertake to govern without a representative assembly. The political
necessity of the situation was absolute, and all reasonable men who
were embarked in the cause felt it to be so.

Through all these stages Milton passed in the space of twenty
years--Church-Puritan, Presbyterian, Royalist, Independent,
Commonwealth's man, Oliverian. These political phases were not the
acquiescence of a placeman, or indifferentist, in mutations for which
he does not care; still less were they changes either of party or of
opinion. Whatever he thought, Milton thought and felt intensely, and
expressed emphatically; and even his enemies could not accuse him of
a shadow of inconsistency or wavering in his principles. On the
contrary, tenacity, or persistence of idea, amounted in him to a
serious defect of character. A conviction once formed dominated him,
so that, as in the controversy with Morus, he could not be persuaded
that he had made a mistake. No mind, the history of which we have an
opportunity of intimately studying, could be more of one piece and
texture than was that of Milton from youth to age. The names, which
we are obliged to give to his successive political stages, do not
indicate shades of colour adopted from the prevailing political
ground, but the genuine development of the public consciousness of
Puritan England repeated in an individual. Milton moved forward, not
because Cromwell and the rest advanced, but with Cromwell and the
rest. We may perhaps describe the motive force as a passionate
attachment to personal liberty, liberty of thought and action. This
ideal force working in the minds of a few, "those worthies which
are the soul of that enterprise" (_Tenure of Kings_), had been the
mainspring of the whole revolution. The Levellers, Quakers, Fifth
Monarchy men, and the wilder Anabaptist sects, only showed the
workings of the same idea in men, whose intellects had not been
disciplined by education or experience. The idea of liberty,
formulated into a doctrine, and bowed down to as a holy creed, made
some of its best disciples, such as Harrison and Overton, useless at
the most critical juncture. The party of anti-Oliverian republicans,
the Intransigentes, became one of the greatest difficulties of the
Government. Milton, with his idealism, his thoroughness, and obstinate
persistence, was not unlikely to have shipwrecked upon the same rock.
He was saved by his constancy to the principle of religious liberty,
which was found with the party that had destroyed the King because he
would not be ruled by a Parliament, while in 1655 it supported the
Protector in governing without a Parliament. Supreme authority
in itself was not Cromwell's aim; he used it only to secure the
fulfilment of those ideas of religious liberty, civil order, and
Protestant ascendancy in Europe, which filled his whole soul. To
Milton, as to Cromwell, forms, whether of worship or government, were
but means to an end, and were to be changed whenever expediency might
require.

In 1655, then, Milton was an Oliverian, but with reservations. The
most important of these reservations regarded the relation of the
state to the church. Cromwell never wholly dropped the scheme of a
national church. It was, indeed, to be as comprehensive as possible;
Episcopacy was pulled down, Presbytery was not set up, but individual
ministers might be Episcopalian or Presbyterian in sentiment, provided
they satisfied a certain standard, intelligible enough to that
generation, of "godliness". Here Milton seems to have remained
throughout upon the old Independent platform; he will not have the
civil power step over its limits into the province of religion at all.
Many matters, in which the old prelatic church had usurped upon the
domain of the state, should be replaced under the secular authority.
But the spiritual region was matter of conscience, and not of external
regulation.

A further reservation which Milton would make related to endowments,
or the maintenance of ministers. The Protectorate, and the
constitution of 1657, maintained an established clergy in the
enjoyment of tithes or other settled stipends. Nothing was more
abhorrent to Milton's sentiment than state payment in religious
things. The minister who receives such pay becomes a state pensioner,
"a hireling." The law of tithes is a Jewish law, repealed by the
Gospel, under which the minister is only maintained by the freewill
offerings of the congregation to which he ministers. This antipathy to
hired preachers was one of Milton's earliest convictions. It thrusts
itself, rather importunately, into _Lycidas_ (1636), and reappears
in the Sonnet to Cromwell (_Sonnet_ xvii., 1652), before it is
dogmatically expounded in the pamphlet, _Considerations touching means
to remove Hirelings out of the Church_ (1659). Of the two corruptions
of the church by the secular power, one by force, the other by pay,
Milton regards the last as the most dangerous. "Under force, though
no thank to the forcers, true religion ofttimes best thrives and
flourishes; but the corruption of teachers, most commonly the effect
of hire, is the very bane of truth in them who are so corrupted."
Nor can we tax this aversion to a salaried ministry, with being a
monomania of sect. It is essentially involved in the conception of
religion as a spiritual state, a state of grace. A soul in this state
can only be ministered to by a brother in a like frame of mind. To
assign a place with a salary, is to offer a pecuniary inducement to
simulate this qualification. This principle may be wrong, but it is
not unreasonable. It is the very principle on which the England of our
day has decided against the endowment of science. The endowment of the
church was to Milton the poison of religion, and in so thinking he was
but true to his conception of religion. Cromwell, whatever may have
been his speculative opinions, decided in favour of a state endowment,
upon the reasons, or some of them, which have moved modern statesmen
to maintain church establishments.

With whatever reservations, Milton was an Oliverian. Supporting the
Protector's policy, he admired his conduct, and has recorded his
admiration in the memorable sonnet xii. How the Protector thought of
Milton, or even that he knew him at all, there remains no evidence.
Napoleon said of Corneille that, if he had lived in his day, he would
have made him his first minister.

Milton's ideas were not such as could have value in the eyes of a
practical statesman. Yet Cromwell was not always taking advice, or
discussing business. He, who could take a liking for the genuine
inwardness of the enthusiast George Fox, might have been expected to
appreciate equal unworldliness, joined with culture and reading, in
Milton. "If," says Neal, "there was a man in England who excelled in
any faculty or science, the Protector would find him out and reward
him." But the excellence which the Protector prized was aptness for
public employment, and this was the very quality in which Milton was
deficient.

The poverty of Milton's state letters has been often remarked.
Whenever weighty negotiations are going on, other pens than his are
employed. We may ascribe this to his blindness. Milton could only
dictate, and therefore everything entrusted to him must pass through
an amanuensis, who might blab. One exception to the commonplace
character of the state papers there is. The massacre of the Vaudois
by their own sovereign, Charles Emanuel II., Duke of Savoy, excited a
thrill of horror in England greater than the massacres of Scio or of
Batak roused in our time. For in Savoy it was not humanity only that
was outraged, it was a deliberate assault of the Papal half of Europe
upon an outpost of the Protestant cause.

One effect of the Puritan revolution had been to alter entirely the
foreign policy of England. By nature, by geographical position, by
commercial occupations, and the free spirit of the natives, these
islands were marked out to be members of the northern confederacy of
progressive and emancipated Europe. The foreign policy of Elisabeth
had been steady adhesion to this law of nature. The two first Stuarts,
coquetting with semi-Catholicism at home, had leaned with all the
weight of the crown and of government towards catholic connexions. The
country had always offered a vain resistance; the Parliament of
1621 had been dismissed for advising James to join the continental
protestants against Spain. It was certain, therefore, that when the
government became Puritan, its foreign policy would again become that
of Elisabeth. This must have been the case even if Cromwell had not
been there. He saw not only that England must be a partner in the
general protestant interest, but that it fell to England to make the
combination and to lead it. He acted in this with his usual decision.
He placed England in her natural antagonism to Spain; he made peace
with the Dutch; he courted the friendship of the Swiss Cantons, and
the alliance of the Scandinavian and German Princes; and to France,
which had a divided interest, he made advantageous offers provided the
Cardinal would disconnect himself from the ultramontane party.

It was in April 1655, that the Vaudois atrocities suddenly added the
impulse of religious sympathy to the permanent gravitation of the
political forces. In all catholic countries the Jesuits had by this
time made themselves masters of the councils of the princes. The aim
of Jesuit policy in the seventeenth century was nothing less than the
entire extirpation of protestantism and protestants in the countries
which they ruled. The inhabitants of certain Piedmontese valleys had
held from time immemorial, and long before Luther, tenets and forms of
worship very like those to which the German reformers had sought to
bring back the church. The Vaudois were wretchedly poor, and had been
incessantly the objects of aggression and persecution. In January
1655, a sudden determination was taken by the Turin government to
make them conform to the catholic religion by force. The whole of the
inhabitants of three valleys were ordered to quit the country within
three days, under pain of death and confiscation of goods, unless they
would become, or undertake to become, catholic. They sent their
humble remonstrances to the court of Turin against this edict. The
remonstrances were disregarded, and military execution was ordered. On
April 17, 1655, the soldiers, recruits from all countries--the Irish
are specially mentioned--were let loose upon the unarmed population.
Murder and rape and burning are the ordinary incidents of military
execution. These were not enough to satisfy the ferocity of the
catholic soldiery, who revelled for many days in the infliction of all
that brutal lust or savage cruelty can suggest to men.

It was nearly a month before the news reached England. A cry of horror
went through the country, and Cromwell said it came "as near his
heart as if his own nearest and dearest had been concerned." A day
of humiliation was appointed, large collections were made for the
sufferers, and a special envoy was despatched to remonstrate with the
Duke of Savoy. Cardinal Mazarin, however, seeing the importance which
the Lord Protector would acquire by taking the lead on this occasion,
stepped in, and patched up a hasty arrangement, the treaty of
Pignerol, by which some sort of fallacious protection was ostensibly
secured to the survivors of the massacre.

All the despatches in this business were composed by Milton. But he
only found the words; especially in the letter to the Duke of Savoy,
the tone of which is much more moderate than we should have expected,
considering that Blake was in the Mediterranean, and master of the
coasts of the Duke's dominions. It is impossible to extract from these
letters any characteristic trait, unless it is from the speech, which
the envoy, Morland, was instructed to deliver at Turin, in which it is
said that all the Neros of all ages had never contrived inhumanities
so atrocious, as what had taken place in the Vaudois valleys. Thus
restricted in his official communications, Milton gave vent to his
personal feelings on the occasion in the well-known sonnet (xviii.)
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Lie scattered on
the Alpine mountains cold."

It has been already said that there remains no trace of any personal
intercourse between Milton and Cromwell. He seems to have remained
equally unknown to, or unregarded by, the other leading men in the
Government or the Council. It is vain to conjecture the cause of this
general neglect. Some have found it in the coldness with which Milton
regarded, parts at least of, the policy of the Protectorate. Others
refer it to the haughty nature of the man, who will neither ask a
favour, nor make the first advances towards intimacy. This last
supposition is nearer the truth than the former. An expression he uses
in a private letter may be cited in its support. Writing to Peter
Heimbach in 1657, to excuse himself from giving him a recommendation
to the English ambassador in Holland, he says: "I am sorry that I am
not able to do this; I have very little acquaintance with those in
power, inasmuch as I keep very much to my own house, and prefer to do
so." Something may also be set down to the character of the Puritan
leaders, alien to all poetry, and knowing no books but the Bible.

The mental isolation in which the great poet lived his life, is
a remarkable feature of his biography. It was not only after the
Restoration that he appears lonely and friendless; it was much
the same during the previous period of the Parliament and the
Protectorate. Just at one time, about 1641, we hear from our best
authority, Phillips, of his cultivating the society of men of his own
age, and "keeping a gawdy-day", but this only once in three weeks or
a month, with "two gentlemen of Gray's Inn." He had, therefore, known
what it was to be sociable. But the general tenour of his life was
other; proud, reserved, self-contained, repellent; brooding over his
own ideas, not easily admitting into his mind the ideas of others. It
is indeed an erroneous estimate of Milton to attribute to him a hard
or austere nature. He had all the quick sensibility which belongs to
the poetic temperament, and longed to be loved that he might love
again. But he had to pay the penalty of all who believe in their own
ideas, in that their ideas come between them and the persons that
approach them, and constitute a mental barrier which can only be
broken down by sympathy. And sympathy for ideas is hard to find, just
in proportion as those ideas are profound, far-reaching, the fruit of
long study and meditation. Hence it was that Milton did not associate
readily with his contemporaries, but was affable and instructive in
conversation with young persons, and those who would approach him in
the attitude of disciples. His daughter Deborah, who could tell so
little about him, remembered that he was delightful company, the life
of a circle, and that he was so, through a flow of subjects, and
an unaffected cheerfulness and civility. I would interpret this
testimony, the authenticity of which is indisputable, of his demeanour
with the young, and those who were modest enough to wait upon his
utterances. His isolation from his coevals, and from those who offered
resistance, was the necessary consequence of his force of character,
and the moral tenacity which endured no encroachment on the narrow
scheme of thought; over which it was incessantly brooding.

Though, as Johnson says "his literature was immense", there was no
humanity in it; it was fitted immovably into a scholastic frame-work.
Hence it was no bond of sympathy between him and other men. We find
him in no intimate relation with any of the contemporary men of
learning, poets, or wits. From such of them as were of the cavalier
party he was estranged by politics. That it was Milton's interposition
which saved Davenant's life in 1651, even were the story better
authenticated than it is, is not an evidence of intimacy. The three
men most eminent for learning (in the usually received sense of the
word) in England at that day were Selden (d. 1654), Gataker (d. 1654),
and Archbishop Usher (d. 1656), all of whom were to be found in
London. With none of the three is there any trace of Milton ever
having had intercourse.

It is probable, but not certain, that it was at Milton's intercession
that the Council proposed to subsidise Brian Walton in his great
enterprise--the Polyglott Bible. This, the noblest monument of the
learning of the Anglican Church, was projected and executed by the
silenced clergy. Fifteen years of spoliation and humiliation thus bore
richer fruit of learning than the two centuries of wealth and honour
which have since elapsed. As Brian Walton had, at one time, been
curate of Allhallows, Bread Street, Milton may have known him, and it
has been inferred that by Twells' expression--"The Council of
state, before whom _some_, having _relation to them_, brought this
business"--Milton is meant.

Not with John Hales, Cudworth, Whichcote, Nicholas Bernard, Meric
Casaubon, nor with any of the men of letters who were churchmen, do
we find Milton in correspondence. The interest of religion was
more powerful than the interest of knowledge; and the author of
_Eikonoklastes_ must have been held in special abhorrence by the loyal
clergy. The general sentiment of this party is expressed in Hacket's
tirade, for which the reader is referred to his Life of Archbishop
Williams.

From Presbyterians, such as Theophilus Gale or Baxter, Milton was
equally separated by party. Of Hobbes, Milton's widow told Aubrey
"that he was not of his acquaintance; that her husband did not like
him at all, but would acknowledge him to be a man of great parts."

Owing to these circumstances, the circle of Milton's intimates
contains few, and those undistinguished names. One exception there
was. In Andrew Marvel Milton found one congenial spirit, incorruptible
amid poverty, unbowed by defeat. Marvel was twelve years Milton's
junior, and a Cambridge man (Trinity), like himself. He had had better
training still, having been for two years an inmate of Nunappleton, in
the capacity of instructor to Mary, only daughter of the great Lord
Fairfax. In 1652, Milton had recommended Marvel for the appointment of
assistant secretary to himself, now that he was partially disabled
by his blindness. The recommendation was not effectual at the time,
another man, Philip Meadows, obtaining the post. It was not till 1657,
when Meadows was sent on a mission to Denmark, that Marvel became
Milton's colleague. He remained attached to him to the last. It were
to be wished that he had left some reminiscences of his intercourse
with the poet in his later years, some authentic notice of him in his
prose letters, instead of a copy of verses, which attest, at least,
his affectionate admiration for Milton's great epic, though they are a
poor specimen of his own poetical efforts.

Of Marchmont Needham, and Samuel Hartlib mention has been already
made. During the eight years of his sojourn in the house in Petty
France, "he was frequently visited by persons of quality," says
Phillips. The only name he gives is Lady Ranelagh. This lady, by birth
a Boyle, sister of Robert Boyle, had placed first her nephew, and then
her son, under Milton's tuition. Of an excellent understanding, and
liberally cultivated, she sought Milton's society, and as he could
not go to visit her, she went to him. There are no letters of Milton
addressed to her, but he mentions her once as "a most superior woman,"
and when, in 1656, she left London for Ireland, he "grieves for the
loss of the one acquaintance which was worth to him all the rest."
These names, with that of Dr. Paget, exhaust the scanty list of
Milton's intimates during this period.

To these older friends, however, must be added his former pupils, now
become men, but remaining ever attached to their old tutor, seeing him
often when in London, and when absent corresponding with him. With
them he was "affable and instructive in conversation." Henry Lawrence,
son of the President of Oliver's Council, and Cyriac Skinner,
grandson, of Chief Justice Coke, were special favourites. With these
he would sometimes "by the fire help waste a sullen day;" and it was
these two who called forth from him the only utterances of this time
which are not solemn, serious, or sad. Sonnet XVI is a poetical
invitation to Henry Lawrence, "of virtuous father virtuous son," to a
"neat repast," not without wine and song, to cheer the winter season.
Besides these two, whose names are familiar to us through the Sonnets,
there was Lady Ranelagh's son, Richard Jones, who went, in 1656, to
Oxford, attended by his tutor, the German Heinrich Oldenburg. We have
two letters (Latin) addressed to Jones at Oxford, which are curious
as showing that Milton was as dissatisfied with that university even
after the reform, with Oliver Chancellor, and Owen Vice-Chancellor, as
he had been with Cambridge.

His two nephews, also his pupils, must have ceased at a very early
period to be acceptable either as friends or companions. They
had both--but the younger brother, John, more decidedly than
Edward--passed into the opposite camp. This is a result of the uncle's
strict system of Puritan discipline, which will surprise no one who
has observed that, in education, mind reacts against the pressure of
will. The teacher who seeks to impose his views raises antagonists,
and not disciples. The generation of young men who grew up under the
Commonwealth were in intellectual revolt against the constraint of
Puritanism, before they proceeded to political revolution against its
authority. Long before the reaction embodied itself in the political
fact of the Restoration, it had manifested itself in popular
literature. The theatres were still closed by the police, but Davenant
found a public in London to applaud an "entertainment by declamations
and music, after the manner of the ancients" (1656). The press began
timidly to venture on books of amusement, in a style of humour which
seemed ribald and heathenish to the staid and sober covenanter.
Something of the jollity and merriment of old Elisabethan days seemed
to be in the air. But with a vast difference. Instead of "dallying
with the innocence of love," as in _England's Helicon_ (1600), or
_The Passionate Pilgrim_, the sentiment, crushed and maimed by unwise
repression, found a less honest and less refined expression. The
strongest and most universal of human passions when allowed freedom,
light, and air, becomes poetic inspiration. The same passion coerced
by police is but driven underground.

So it came to pass that, in these years, the Protector's Council of
state was much exercised by attempts of the London press to supply the
public, weary of sermons, with some light literature of the class now
(1879) known as facetious. On April 25, 1656, the august body which
had upon its hands the government of three kingdoms and the protection
of the protestant interest militant throughout Europe, could find
nothing better to do than to take into consideration a book entitled
_Sportive Wit, or The Muse's Merriment_. Sad to relate, the book
was found to contain "much lascivious and profane matter." And the
editor?--no other than John Phillips, Milton's youngest nephew! It is
as if nature, in reasserting herself, had made deliberate selection of
its agent. The pure poet of _Comus_, the man who had publicly boasted
his chastity, had trained up a pupil to become the editor of an
immodest drollery! Another and more original production of John
Phillips, the _Satyr against Hypocrites_, was an open attack, with
mixed banter and serious indignation, on the established religion. "It
affords," says Godwin, "unequivocal indication of the company now kept
by the author with cavaliers, and _bon vivans_, and demireps, and men
of ruined fortunes." Edward Phillips, the elder brother, followed suit
with the _Mysteries of Love and Eloquence_ (1658), a book, according
to Godwin, "entitled to no insignificant rank among the multifarious
productions issued from the press, to debauch the manners of the
nation, and to bring back the King." Truly, a man's worst vexations
come to him from his own relations. Milton had the double annoyance
of the public exposure before the Council of State, and the private
reflection on the failure of his own system of education.

The homage which was wanting to the prophet in his own country was
more liberally tendered by foreigners. Milton, it must be remembered,
was yet only known in England as the pamphleteer of strong republican,
but somewhat eccentric, opinions. On the continent he was the answerer
of Salmasius, the vindicator of liberty against despotic power.
"Learned foreigners of note," Phillips tells us, "could not part
out of this city without giving a visit" to his uncle. Aubrey even
exaggerates this flocking of the curious, so far as to say that some
came over into England only to see Oliver Protector and John Milton.
That Milton had more than he liked of these sightseers, who came to
look at him when he could not see them, we can easily believe. Such
visitors would of course be from protestant countries. Italians,
though admiring his elegant Latin, had "disliked him on account of
his too severe morals." A glimpse, and no more than a glimpse, of
the impression such visitors could carry away, we obtain in a letter
written, in 1651, by a Nüremberg pastor, Christoph Arnold, to a friend
at home:--"The strenuous defender of the new _régime_, Milton, enters
readily into conversation; his speech is pure, his written style very
pregnant. He has committed himself to a harsh, not to say unjust,
criticism of the old English divines, and of their Scripture
commentaries, which are truly learned, be witness the genius of
learning himself!" It must not be supposed from this that Milton had
discoursed with Arnold on the English divines. The allusion is to that
onfall upon the reformers, Cranmer, Latimer, &c., which had escaped
from Milton's pen in 1642 to the great grief of his friends. If
the information of a dissenting minister, one Thomas Bradbury, who
professed to derive it from Jeremiah White, one of Oliver's chaplains,
may be trusted, Milton "was allowed by the Parliament a weekly table
for the entertainment of foreign ministers and persons of learning,
such especially as came from protestant states, which allowance was
also continued by Cromwell."

Such homage, though it may be a little tiresome, may have gratified
for the moment the political writer, but it would not satisfy the poet
who was dreaming of an immortality of far other fame--

    Two equal'd with me in fate,
    So were I equal'd with them in renown.

And to one with Milton's acute sensibility, yearning for sympathy and
love, dependent, through his calamity, on the eyes, as on the heart,
of others, his domestic interior was of more consequence than outside
demonstrations of respect. Four years after the death of his first
wife he married again. We know nothing more of this second wife,
Catharine Woodcock, than what may be gathered from the Sonnet XIX,
in which he commemorated his "late espoused saint," in whose person
"love, sweetness, goodness shin'd." After only fifteen months union
she died (1658), after having given birth to a daughter, who lived
only a few months. Milton was again alone.

His public functions as Latin Secretary had been contracted within
narrow limits by his blindness. The heavier part of the duties had
been transferred to others, first to Weckherlin, then to Philip
Meadows, and lastly to Andrew Marvel. The more confidential diplomacy
Thurloe reserved for his own cabinet. But Milton continued up to the
last to be occasionally called upon for a Latin epistle. On September
3, 1658, passed away the master-mind which had hitherto compelled the
jarring elements in the nation to co-exist together, and chaos was let
loose. Milton retained and exercised his secretaryship under Richard
Protector, and even under the restored Parliament. His latest Latin
letter is of date May 16, 1659. He is entirely outside all the
combinations and complications which filled the latter half of that
year, after Richard's retirement in May. It is little use writing to
foreign potentates now, for, with one man's life, England has fallen
from her lead in Europe, and is gravitating towards the catholic and
reactionary powers, France or Spain. Milton, though he knows nothing
more than one of the public, "only what it appears to us without
doors," he says, will yet write about it. The habit of pamphleteering
was on him, and he will write what no one will care to read. The
stiff-necked commonwealth men, with their doctrinaire republicanism,
were standing out for their constitutional ideas, blind to the fact
that the royalists were all the while undermining the ground beneath
the feet alike of Presbyterian and Independent, Parliament and army.
The Greeks of Constantinople denouncing the Azymite, when Mohammed II.
was forming his lines round the doomed city, were not more infatuated
than these pedantic commonwealth men with their parliamentarianism
when Charles II. was at Calais.

Not less inopportune than the public men of the party, Milton chooses
this time for inculcating his views on endowments. A fury of utterance
was upon him, and he poured out, during the death-throes of the
republic, pamphlet upon pamphlet, as fast as he could get them written
to his dictation. These extemporised effusions betray in their style,
hurry and confusion, the restlessness of a coming despair. The
passionate enthusiasm of the early tracts is gone, and all the old
faults, the obscurity, the inconsecutiveness, the want of arrangement,
are exaggerated. In the _Ready Way_ there is a monster sentence of
thirty-nine lines, containing 336 words. Though his instincts were
perturbed, he was unaware what turn things were taking. In February
1660, when all persons of ordinary information saw that the
restoration of monarchy was certain, Milton knew it not, and put out a
tract to show his countrymen a _Ready and easy way to establish a free
Commonwealth_. With the same pertinacity with which he had adhered
to his own assumption that Morus was author of the _Clamor_, he now
refused to believe in the return of the Stuarts. Fast as his pen
moved, events outstripped it, and he has to rewrite the _Ready and
easy way_ to suit their march. The second edition is overtaken by the
Restoration, and it should seem was never circulated. Milton will ever
"give advice to Sylla," and writes a letter of admonition to Monk,
which, however, never reached either the press or Sylla.

The month of May 1660, put a forced end to his illusion. Before the
29th of that month he had fled from the house in Petty France, and
been sheltered by a friend in the city. In this friend's house, in
Bartholomew Close, he lay concealed till the passing of the Act of
Oblivion, 29th August. Phillips says that he owed his exemption from
the vengeance which overtook so many of his friends, to Andrew Marvel,
"who acted vigorously in his behalf, and made a considerable party for
him." But in adding that "he was so far excepted as not to bear any
office in the commonwealth," Phillips is in error. Milton's name does
not occur in the Act. Pope used to tell that Davenant had employed his
interest to protect a brother-poet, thus returning a similar act of
generosity done to himself by Milton in 1650. Pope had this story from
Betterton the actor. How far Davenant exaggerated to Betterton his own
influence or his exertions, we cannot tell. Another account assigns
the credit of the intervention to Secretary Morris and Sir Thomas
Clarges. After all, it is probable that he owed his immunity to his
insignificance and his harmlessness. The formality of burning two of
his books by the hands of the hangman was gone through. He was
also for some time during the autumn of 1660 in the custody of the
serjeant-at-arms, for on 15th December, there is an entry in the
Commons journals ordering his discharge. It is characteristic of
Milton that, even in this moment of peril, he stood up for his rights,
and refused to pay an overcharge, which the official thought he might
safely exact from a rebel and a covenanter.





THIRD PERIOD, 1660-1674.



CHAPTER XII.

BIOGRAPHICAL.--LITERARY OCCUPATION.--RELIGIOUS OPINIONS.


Revolutions are of two kinds; they are either progressive or
reactionary. A revolution of progress is often destructive, sweeping
away much which should have been preserved. But such a revolution has
a regenerating force; it renews the youth of a nation, and gives free
play to its vital powers. Lost limbs are replaced by new. A revolution
of reaction, on the other hand, is a benumbing influence, paralysing
effort, and levelling character. In such a conservative revolution,
the mean, the selfish, and the corrupt come to the top; man seeks
ease and enjoyment rather than duty; virtue, honour, patriotism, and
disinterestedness disappear altogether from a society which has ceased
to believe in them.

The Restoration of 1660 was such a revolution. Complete and
instantaneous inversion of the position of the two parties in the
nation, it occasioned much individual hardship. But this was only the
fortune of war, the necessary consequence of party ascendancy. The
Restoration was much more than a triumph of the party of the royalists
over that of the roundheads; it was the deathblow to national
aspiration, to all those aims which raise man above himself. It
destroyed and trampled under foot his ideal. The Restoration was a
moral catastrophe. It was not that there wanted good men among the
churchmen, men as pious and virtuous as the Puritans whom they
displaced. But the royalists came back as the party of reaction,
reaction of the spirit of the world against asceticism, of
self-indulgence against duty, of materialism against idealism. For a
time virtue was a public laughing-stock, and the word "saint," the
highest expression in the language for moral perfection, connoted
everything that was ridiculous. I do not speak of the gallantries of
Whitehall, which figure so prominently in the histories of the reign.
Far too much is made of these, when they are made the scapegoat of
the moralist. The style of court manners was a mere incident on the
surface of social life. The national life was more profoundly tainted
by the discouragement of all good men, which penetrated every shire
and every parish, than by the distant reports of the loose behaviour
of Charles II. Servility, meanness, venality, time-serving, and
a disbelief in virtue diffused themselves over the nation like a
pestilential miasma, the depressing influence of which was heavy, even
upon those souls which individually resisted the poison. The heroic
age of England had passed away, not by gradual decay, by imperceptible
degeneration, but in a year, in a single day, like the winter's snow
in Greece. It is for the historian to describe, and unfold the sources
of this contagion. The biographer of Milton has to take note of the
political change only as it affected the worldly circumstances of the
man, the spiritual environment of the poet, and the springs of his
inspiration.

The consequences of the Restoration to Milton's worldly fortunes were
disastrous. As a partisan he was necessarily involved in the ruin of
his party. As a matter of course he lost his Latin secretaryship.
There is a story that he was offered to be continued in it, and that
when urged to accept the offer by his wife, he replied, "Thou art in
the right; you, as other women, would ride in your coach; for me, my
aim is to live and die an honest man." This tradition, handed on by
Pope, is of doubtful authenticity. It is not probable that the man who
had printed of Charles I. what Milton had printed, could have been
offered office under Charles II. Even were court favour to be
purchased by concessions, Milton was not the man to make them, or to
belie his own antecedents, as Marchmont, Needham, Dryden, and so many
others did. Our wish for Milton is that he should have placed himself
from the beginning above party. But he had chosen to be the champion
of a party, and he loyally accepted the consequences. He escaped with
life and liberty. The reaction, though barbarous in its treatment of
its victims, was not bloodthirsty. Milton was already punished by the
loss of his sight, and he was now mulcted in three-fourths of his
small fortune. A sum of 2000 l. which he had placed in government
securities was lost, the restored monarchy refusing to recognise
the obligations of the protectorate. He lost another like sum by
mismanagement, and for want of good advice, says Phillips, or
according to his granddaughter's statement, by the dishonesty of a
money-scrivener. He had also to give up, without compensation, some
property, valued at 60 l. a year, which he had purchased when the
estates of the Chapter of Westminster were sold. In the great fire,
1666, his house in Bread-street was destroyed. Thus, from easy
circumstances, he was reduced, if not to destitution, at least to
narrow means. He left at his death 1500 l., which Phillips calls a
considerable sum. And if he sold his books, one by one, during his
lifetime, this was because, knowing their value, he thought he could
dispose of them to greater advantage than his wife would be able to
do.

But far outweighing such considerations as pecuniary ruin, and
personal discomfort, was the shock which the moral nature felt from
the irretrievable discomfiture of all the hopes, aims, and aspirations
which had hitherto sustained and nourished his soul. In a few months
the labour of twenty years was swept away without a trace of it being
left. It was not merely a political defeat of his party, it was the
total wreck of the principles, of the social and religious ideal, with
which Milton's life was bound up. Others, whose convictions only had
been engaged in the cause, could hasten to accommodate themselves to
the new era, or even to transfer their services to the conqueror. But
such flighty allegiance was not possible for Milton, who had embarked
in the Puritan cause not only intellectual convictions, but all the
generosity and ardour of his passionate nature. "I conceive myself to
be," he had written in 1642, "not as mine own person, but as a member
incorporate into that truth whereof I was persuaded, and whereof I had
declared myself openly to be the partaker." It was now in the moment
of overthrow that Milton became truly great. "Wandellos im ewigen
Ruin," he stood alone, and became the party himself. He took the
only course open to him, turned away his thoughts from the political
disaster, and directed the fierce enthusiasm which burned within,
upon an absorbing poetic task. His outward hopes were blasted, and he
returned with concentrated ardour to woo the muse, from whom he had so
long truanted. The passion which seethes beneath the stately march of
the verse in _Paradise Lost_, is not the hopeless moan of despair, but
the intensified fanaticism which defies misfortune to make it "bate
one jot of heart or hope." The grand loneliness of Milton after 1668,
"is reflected in his three great poems by a sublime independence of
human sympathy, like that with which mountains fascinate and rebuff
us" (_Lowell_).

Late then, but not too late, Milton, at the age of fifty-two,
fell back upon the rich resources of his own mind, upon poetical
composition, and the study of good books, which he always asserted to
be necessary to nourish and sustain a poet's imagination. Here he had
to contend with the enormous difficulty of blindness. He engaged a
kind of attendant to read to him. But this only sufficed for English
books--imperfectly even for these--and the greater part of the choice,
not extensive, library upon which Milton drew, was Hebrew, Greek,
Latin, and the modern languages of Europe. In a letter to Heimbach, of
date 1666, he complains pathetically of the misery of having to
spell out, letter by letter, the Latin words of the epistle, to the
attendant who was writing to his dictation. At last he fell upon the
plan of engaging young friends, who occasionally visited him, to read
to him and to write for him. In the precious volume of Milton MSS.
preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, six different
hands have been distinguished. Who they were is not always known. But
Phillips tells us that, "he had daily about him one or other to read
to him; some persons of man's estate, who of their own accord greedily
catch'd at the opportunity of being his reader, that they might as
well reap the benefit of what they read to him, as oblige him by
the benefit of their reading; others of younger years sent by their
parents to the same end." Edward Phillips himself, who visited his
uncle to the last, may have been among the number, as much as his own
engagements as tutor, first to the only son of John Evelyn, then in
the family of the Earl of Pembroke, and finally to the Bennets, Lord
Arlington's children, would permit him. Others of these casual readers
were Samuel Barrow, body physician to Charles II., and Cyriac Skinner,
of whom mention has been already made (above, p. 132).

To a blind man, left with three little girls, of whom the youngest was
only eight at the Restoration, marriage seemed equally necessary for
their sake as for his own. Milton consulted his judicious friend and
medical adviser, Dr. Paget, who recommended to him Elizabeth Minshull,
of a family of respectable position near Nantwich, in Cheshire. She
was some distant relation of Paget, who must have felt the terrible
responsibility of undertaking to recommend. She justified his
selection. The marriage took place in February 1663, and during the
remaining eleven years of his life, the poet was surrounded by the
thoughtful attentions of an active and capable woman. There is
but scanty evidence as to what she was like, either in person or
character. Aubrey, who knew her, says she was "a gent. (genteel?)
person, (of) a peaceful and agreeable humour." Newton, Bishop of
Bristol, who wrote in 1749, had heard that she was "a woman of a most
violent spirit, and a hard mother-in-law to his children." It is
certain that she regarded her husband with great veneration, and
studied his comfort. Mary Fisher, a maidservant in the house, deposed
that at the end of his life, when he was sick and infirm, his wife
having provided something for dinner she thought he would like, he
"spake to his said wife these or like words, as near as this deponent
can remember: 'God have mercy, Betty, I see thou wilt perform
according to thy promise, in providing me such dishes as I think fit
while I live, and when I die thou knowest I have left thee all.'"
There is no evidence that his wife rendered him literary assistance.
Perhaps, as she looked so thoroughly to his material comfort, her
function was held, by tacit agreement, to end there.

As casual visitors, or volunteer readers, were not always in the way,
and a hired servant who could not spell Latin was of very restricted
use, it was not unnatural that Milton should look to his daughters, as
they grew up, to take a share in supplying his voracious demand for
intellectual food. Anne, the eldest, though she had handsome features,
was deformed and had an impediment in her speech, which made her
unavailable as a reader. The other two, Mary and Deborah, might
now have been of inestimable service to their father, had their
dispositions led them to adapt themselves to his needs, and the
circumstances of the house. Unfortunate it was for Milton, that
his biblical views on the inferiority of woman had been reduced to
practice in the bringing up of his own daughters. It cannot indeed
be said that the poet whose imagination created the Eve of _Paradise
Lost_, regarded woman as the household drudge, existing only to
minister to man's wants. Of all that men have said of women nothing is
more loftily conceived than the well-known passage at the end of Book
viii.:--

                              When I approach
    Her loveliness, so absolute she seems,
    And in herself complete, so well to know
    Her own, that what she wills to do or say
    Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best;
    All higher knowledge in her presence falls
    Degraded; wisdom in discourse with her
    Loses discountenanc'd, and like folly shows;
    Authority and reason on her wait,
    As one intended first, not after made

    Occasionally; and, to consummate all,
    Greatness of mind, and nobleness, their seat
    Build in her loveliest, and create an awe
    About her, as a guard angelic plac'd.

Bishop Newton thought that, in drawing Eve, Milton had in mind his
third wife, because she had hair of the colour of Eve's "golden
tresses." But Milton had never seen Elizabeth Minshull. If reality
suggested any trait, physical or mental, of the Eve, it would
certainly have been some woman seen in earlier years.

But wherever Milton may have met with an incarnation of female
divinity such as he has drawn, it was not in his own family. We cannot
but ask, how is it that one, whose type of woman is the loftiest known
to English literature, should have brought up his own daughters on so
different a model? Milton is not one of the false prophets, who turn
round and laugh at their own enthusiasms, who say one thing in their
verses, and another thing over their cups. What he writes in his
poetry is what he thinks, what he means, and what he will do. But in
directing the bringing up of his daughters, he put his own typical
woman entirely on one side. His practice is framed on the principle
that

               Nothing lovelier can be found
    In woman, than to study household good.

    _Paradise Lost_, ix. 233.

He did not allow his daughters to learn any language, saying with a
gibe that one tongue was enough for a woman. They were not sent to any
school, and had some sort of teaching at home from a mistress. But in
order to make them useful in reading to him, their father was at the
pains to train them to read aloud in five or six languages, of none of
which they understood one word. When we think of the time and labour
which must have been expended to teach them to do this, it must occur
to us that a little more labour would have sufficed to teach them so
much of one or two of the languages, as would have made their reading
a source of interest and improvement to themselves. This Milton
refused to do. The consequence was, as might have been expected, the
occupation became so irksome to them, that they rebelled against it.
In the case of one of them, Mary, who was like her mother in person,
and took after her in other respects, this restiveness passed into
open revolt. She first resisted, then neglected, and finally came to
hate, her father. When some one spoke in her presence of her father's
approaching marriage, she said "that was no news to hear of his
wedding; but if she could hear of his death, that was something." She
combined with Anne, the eldest daughter, "to counsel his maidservant
to cheat him in his marketings." They sold his books without his
knowledge. "They made nothing of deserting him," he was often heard to
complain. They continued to live with him five or six years after
his marriage. But at last the situation became intolerable to both
parties, and they were sent out to learn embroidery in gold or silver,
as a means of obtaining their livelihood. Deborah, the youngest, was
included in the same arrangement, though she seems to have been more
helpful to her father, and to have been at one time his principal
reader. Aubrey says that he "taught her Latin, and that she was his
amanuensis." She even spoke of him when she was old--she lived to be
seventy-four--with some tenderness. She was once, in 1725, shewn
Faithorne's crayon drawing of the poet, without being told for whom it
was intended. She immediately exclaimed, "O Lord! that is the picture
of my father!" and stroking down the hair of her forehead, added,
"Just so my father wore his hair."

One of Milton's volunteer readers, and one to whom we owe the most
authentic account of him in his last years, was a young Quaker, named
Thomas Ellwood. Milton's Puritanism had been all his life slowly
gravitating in the direction of more and more liberty, and though he
would not attach himself to any sect, he must have felt in no remote
sympathy with men who repudiated state interference in religious
matters, and disdained ordinances. Some such sympathy with the pure
spirituality of the Quaker may have disposed Milton favourably
towards Ellwood. The acquaintance once begun, was cemented by mutual
advantage. Milton, besides securing an intelligent reader, had a
pleasure in teaching; and Ellwood, though the reverse of humble, was
teachable from desire to expand himself. Ellwood took a lodging near
the poet, and went to him every day, except "first-day," in the
afternoon, to read Latin to him.

Milton's frequent change of abode has been thought indicative of a
restless temperament, seeking escape from petty miseries by change of
scene. On emerging from hiding, or escaping from the serjeant-at-arms
in 1660, he lived or a short time in Holborn, near Red Lion Square.
From this he removed to Jewin Street, and moved again, on his
marriage, in 1662, to the house of Millington, the bookseller, who
was now beginning business, but who, before his death in 1704, had
accumulated the largest stock of second-hand books to be found in
London. His last remove was to a house in a newly-created row facing
the Artillery-ground, on the site of the west side of what is now
called Bunhill Row. This was his abode from his marriage till his
death, nearly twelve years, a longer stay than he had made in any
other residence. This is the house which, must be associated with the
poet of _Paradise Lost_, as it was here that the poem was in part
written, and wholly revised and finished. Bat the Bunhill Row house is
only producible "by the imagination; every trace of it has long
been swept away, though the name Milton Street, bestowed upon a
neighbouring street, preserves the remembrance of the poet's connexion
with the locality. Here "an ancient clergyman of Dorsetshire, Dr.
Wright, found John Milton in a small chamber, "hung with rusty green,
sitting in an elbow-chair, and dressed neatly in black; pale, but not
cadaverous, his hands and fingers gouty and with chalk-stones." At
the door of this house, sitting in the sun, looking out upon the
Artillery-ground, "in a, grey coarse cloth coat," he would receive his
visitors. On colder days he would walk for hours--three or four hours
at a time. In his garden. A garden was a _sine qua non_, and he took
care to have one to every house he lived in.

His habit in early life had been to study late into the night. After
he lost his sight, he changed his hours, and retired to rest at nine.
In summer he rose at four, in winter at five, and began the day with
having the Hebrew Scriptures read to him. "Then he contemplated. At
seven his man came to him again, and then read to him and wrote till
dinner. The writing was as much as the reading" (Aubrey). Then he took
exercise, either walking in the garden, or swinging in a machine. His
only recreation, besides conversation, was music. He played the organ
and the bass viol, the organ most. Sometimes he would sing himself or
get his wife to sing to him, though she had, he said, no ear, yet a
good voice. Then he went up to his study to be read to till six. After
six his friends were admitted to visit him, and would sit with him
till eight. At eight he went down to supper, usually olives or some
light thing. He was very abstemious in his diet, having to contend
with a gouty diathesis. He was not fastidious in his choice of meats,
but content with anything that was in season, or easy to be procured.
After supping thus sparingly, he smoked a pipe of tobacco, drank a
glass of water, and then retired to bed. He was sparing in his use of
wine. His Samson, who in this as in other things, is Milton himself,
allays his thirst "from the clear milky juice."

Bed with its warmth and recumbent posture he found favourable to
composition. At other times he would compose or prune his verses, as
he walked in the garden, and then, coming in, dictate. His verse was
not at the command of his will. Sometimes he would lie awake the whole
night, trying but unable to make a single line. At other times lines
flowed without premeditation "with a certain impetus and oestro." What
was his season of inspiration is somewhat uncertain. In the elegy
"To Spring," Milton says it was the spring which restored his poetic
faculty. Phillips, however, says, "that his vein never flowed happily
but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal," and that the poet told
him this. Phillips' reminiscence is perhaps true at the date of
_Paradise Lost_, when Milton's habits had changed from what they
had been at twenty. Or we may agree with Toland, that Phillips has
transposed the seasons, though preserving the fact of intermittent
inspiration. What he composed at night, he dictated in the day,
sitting obliquely in an elbow-chair, with his leg thrown over the arm.
He would dictate forty lines, as it were in a breath, and then reduce
them to half the number.

Milton's piety is admitted, even by his enemies; and it is a piety
which oppresses his writings as well as his life, The fact that a man,
with a deep sense of religion, should not have attended any place of
public worship, has given great trouble to Milton's biographers. And
the principal biographers of this thorough-going nonconformist have
been Anglican clergymen; Bishop Newton, Todd, Mitford; Dr. Johnson,
more clerical than any cleric, being no exception, Mitford would give
Milton a dispensation on the score of his age and infirmities. But the
cause lay deeper. A profound apprehension of the spiritual world leads
to a disregard of rites. To a mind so disposed externals become, first
indifferent, then impedient. Ministration is officious intrusion. I
do not find that Milton, though he wrote against paid ministers as
hirelings, ever expressly formulated an opinion against ministers as
such. But as has already been hinted, there grew up in him, in the
last period of his life, a secret sympathy with the mode of thinking
which came to characterise the Quaker sect. Not that Milton adopted
any of their peculiar fancies. He affirms categorically the
permissibility of oaths, of military service, and requires that women
should keep silence in the congregation. But in negativing all means
of arriving at truth except the letter of scripture interpreted by
the inner light, he stood upon the same platform as the followers of
George Fox.

Milton's latest utterance on theological topics is found in a tract
published by him the year before his death, 1673. The piece is
entitled _Of true religion, heresy, schism, toleration_; but its
meagre contents do not bear out the comprehensiveness of the title.
The only matter really discussed in the pages of the tract is the
limit of toleration. The stamp of age is upon the style, which is more
careless and incoherent even, than usual. He has here dictated his
extempore thoughts, without premeditation or revision, so that we have
here a record of Milton's habitual mind. Having watched him gradually
emancipating himself from the contracted Calvinistic mould of the
Bread-street home, it is disappointing to see that, at sixty-five,
his development has proceeded no further than we here find. He is now
willing to extend toleration to all sects who make the Scriptures
their sole rule of faith. Sects may misunderstand Scripture, but to
err is the condition of humanity, and will be pardoned by God, if
diligence, prayer, and sincerity have been used. The sects named as
to be tolerated are, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Arians,
Socinians, Arminians. They are to be tolerated to the extent of being
allowed, on all occasions, to give account of their faith, by arguing,
preaching in their several assemblies, writing and printing.

In this pamphlet the principle of toleration is flatly enunciated in
opposition to the practice of the Restoration. But the principle is
rested not on the statesman's ground of the irrelevancy of religious
dispute to good government, but on the theological ground of the
venial nature of religious error. And to permissible error there are
very narrow limits; limits which exclude Catholics. For Milton will
exclude Romanists from toleration, not on the statesman's ground
of incivism, but on the theologian's ground of idolatry. All his
antagonism in this tract is reserved for the Catholics. There is not
a hint of discontent with the prelatry, once intolerable to him. Yet
that prelatry was now scourging the nonconformists with scorpions
instead of with whips, with its Act of Uniformity, its Conventicle
Act, its Five-mile Act, filling the gaols with Milton's own friends
and fellow-religionists. Several times, in these thirteen pages, he
appeals to the practice or belief of the Church of England, once even
calling it "our church."

This tract alone is sufficient refutation of an idle story that Milton
died a Roman Catholic, The story is not well vouched, being hearsay
three times removed. Milton's younger brother. Sir Christopher, is
said to have said so at a dinner entertainment. If he ever did say as
much, it must be set down to that peculiar form of credulity which
makes perverts think that every one is about to follow their
example. In Christopher Milton, "a man of no parts or ability, and a
superstitions nature" (Toland), such credulity found a congenial soil.

The tract _Of true religion_ was Milton's latest published work. But
he was preparing for the press, at the time of his death, a more
elaborate theological treatise. Daniel Skinner, a nephew of his old
friend Cyriac, was serving as Milton's amanuensis in writing out a
fair copy. Death came before a third of the work of correction, 196
pages out of 735, had been completed, of which the whole rough draft
consists. The whole remained in Daniel Skinner's hands in 1674.
Milton, though in his preface he if aware that his pages contain not a
little which will be unpalatable to the reigning opinion in religion,
would have dared publication, if he could have passed the censor. But
Daniel Skinner, who was a Fellow of Trinity, and had a career before
him, was not equally free. What could not appear in London, however,
might be printed at Amsterdam. Skinner accordingly put both the
theological treatise, and the epistles written by the Latin Secretary,
into the hands of Daniel Elzevir. The English government getting
intelligence of the proposed publication of the foreign correspondence
of the Parliament and the Protector, interfered, and pressure was put
upon Skinner, through the Master of Trinity, Isaac Barrow. Skinner
hastened to save himself from the fate which in 1681 befel Locke, and
gave up to the Secretary of State, not only the Latin letters, but the
MS. of the theological treatise. Nothing further was known as to the
fate of the MS. till 1823, when it was disinterred from one of the
presses of the old State Paper Office. The Secretary of State, Sir
Joseph Williamson, when he retired from office in 1678, instead of
carrying away his correspondence as had been the custom, left it
behind him. Thus it was that the _Treatise of Christian doctrine_
first saw light, one hundred and fifty years after the author's death.

In a work which had been written as a text-book for the use of
learners, there can be little scope for originality. And Milton
follows the division of the matter into heads usual in the manuals
then current. But it was impossible for Milton to handle the dry bones
of a divinity compendium without stirring them into life. And divinity
which is made to live, necessarily becomes unorthodox.

The usual method of the school text-books of the seventeenth
century was to exhibit dogma in the artificial terminology of the
controversies of the sixteenth century. For this procedure Milton
substitutes the words of Scripture simply. The traditional terms of
the text-books are retained, but they are employed only as heads under
which to arrange the words of Scripture. This process, which in other
hands would be little better than index making, becomes here pregnant
with meaning. The originality which Milton voluntarily resigns, in
employing only the words of the Bible, he recovers by his freedom of
exposition. He shakes himself loose from the trammels of traditional
exposition, and looks at the texts for himself. The truth was

    Left only in those written records pure,
    Though not but by the spirit understood.

    _Paradise Lost_, xii. 510.

Upon the points which interested him most closely, Milton knew that
his understanding of the text differed from the standard of Protestant
orthodoxy. That God created matter, not out of nothing, but out of
Himself, and that death is, in the course of nature, total extinction
of being, though not opinions received, were not singular. More
startling, to European modes of thinking, is his assertion that
polygamy is not, in itself, contrary to morality, though it may be
inexpedient. The religious sentiment of his day was offended by his
vigorous vindication of the freewill of man against the reigning
Calvinism, and his assertion of the inferiority of the Son in
opposition to the received Athanasianism. He labours this point of the
nature of God with especial care, showing how greatly it occupied
his thoughts. He arranges his texts so as to exhibit in Scriptural
language the semi-Arian scheme, i.e. a scheme which, admitting the
co-essentiality, denies the eternal generation. Through all this
manipulation of texts we seem to see, that Milton is not the school
logician erecting a consistent fabric of words, but that he is
dominated by an imagination peopled with concrete personalities, and
labouring to assign their places to the Father and the Son as separate
agents in the mundane drama. The _De doctrina Christiana_ is the prose
counterpart of _Paradise Lost_ and _Regained_, a caput mortuum of the
poems, with every ethereal particle evaporated.

In the royal injunctions of 1614, James I. had ordered students in the
universities not to insist too long upon compendiums, but to study the
Scriptures, and to bestow their time upon the fathers and councils. In
his attempt to express dogmatic theology in the words of Scripture,
Milton was unwittingly obeying this injunction. The other part of the
royal direction as to fathers and councils it was not in Milton's plan
to carry out. Neither indeed was it in his power, for he had not the
necessary learning. M. Scherer says that Milton "laid all antiquity,
sacred and profane, under contribution." So far is this from being the
case, that while he exhibits, in this treatise, an intimate knowledge
of the text of the canonical books, Hebrew and Greek, there is an
absence of that average acquaintance with Christian antiquity which
formed at that day the professional outfit of the episcopal divine.
Milton's references to the fathers are perfunctory and second-hand.
The only citation of Chrysostom, for instance, which I have noticed
is in these words: "the same is said to be the opinion of Chrysostom,
Luther, and other moderns." He did not esteem the judgment of
the fathers sufficiently, to deem them worth studying. In the
interpretation of texts, as in other matters of opinion, Milton
withdrew within the fortress of his absolute personality.

I have now to relate the external history of the composition of
_Paradise Lost_. When Milton had to skulk for a time in 1660, he was
already in steady work upon the poem. Though a few lines of it were
composed as early as 1642, it was not till 1658 that he took up the
task of composition continuously. If we may trust our only authority
(Aubrey-Phillips), he had finished it in 1663, about the time of his
marriage. In polishing, re-writing, and writing out fair, much might
remain to be done, after the poem was, in a way, finished. It is
in 1665, that we first make acquaintance with _Paradise Lost_ in a
complete state. This was the year of the plague, known in our annals
as the Great Plague, to distinguish its desolating ravages from former
slighter visitations of the epidemic. Every one who could fled from
the city of destruction. Milton applied to his young friend Ellwood to
find him a shelter, Ellwood, who was then living as tutor in the house
of the Penningtons, took a cottage for Milton, in their neighbourhood,
at Chalfont St. Giles, in the county of Bucks, Not only the
Penningtons, but General Fleetwood had also his residence near this
village, and a report is mentioned by Howitt that it was Fleetwood who
provided the ex-secretary with a refuge. The society of neither of
these friends was available for Milton. For Fleetwood was a sentenced
regicide, and in July, Pennington and Ellwood were hurried off to
Aylesbury gaol by an indefatigable justice of the peace, who was
desirous of giving evidence of his zeal for the king's government.
That the Chalfont cottage "was not pleasantly situated," must have
been indifferent to the blind old man, as much so as that the
immediate neighbourhood, with its heaths and wooded uplands,
reproduced the scenery he had loved when he wrote _Il Allegro_.

As soon as Ellwood was relieved from imprisonment, he returned to
Chalfont. Then it was that Milton put into his hands the completed
_Paradise Lost_, "bidding me take it home with me, and read it at my
leisure, and when I had so done, return it to him with my judgment
thereupon." On returning it, besides giving the author the benefit of
his judgment, a judgment not preserved, and not indispensable--the
Quaker made his famous speech, "Thou hast said much here of _Paradise
Lost_, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found?" Milton afterwards
told Ellwood that to this casual question was due his writing
_Paradise Regained_, We are not, however, to take this complaisant
speech quite literally, for it is highly probable that the later poem
was included in the original conception, if not in the scheme of the
first epic. But we do get from Ellwood's reminiscence a date for the
beginning of _Paradise Regained_, which must have been at Chalfont in
the autumn of 1665.

When the plague was abated, and the city had become safely habitable,
Milton returned to Artillery Row. He had not been long back when
London was devastated by a fresh calamity, only less terrible than the
plague, because it destroyed the home, and not the life. The Great
Fire succeeded the Great Plague. 13,000 houses, two-thirds of the
city, were reduced to ashes, and the whole current of life and
business entirely suspended. Through these two overwhelming disasters,
Milton must have been supporting his solitary spirit by writing
_Paradise Regained_, _Samson Agonistes_, and giving the final touches
to _Paradise Lost_. He was now so wholly unmoved by his environment,
that we look in vain in the poems for any traces of this season of
suffering and disaster. The past and his own meditations were now all
in all to him; the horrors of the present were as nothing to a man who
had outlived his hopes. Plague and fire, what were they, after the
ruin of the noblest of causes? The stoical compression of _Paradise
Regained_ is in perfect keeping with the fact that it was in the
middle of the ruins of London that Milton placed his finished poem in
the hands of the licenser.

For licenser there was now, the Archbishop of Canterbury to wit, for
religious literature. Of course the Primate read by deputy, usually
one of his chaplains. The reader into whose hands _Paradise Lost_
came, though an Oxford man, and a cleric on his preferment, who had
written his pamphlet against the dissenters, happened to be one whose
antecedents, as Fellow of All Souls, and Proctor (in 1663), ensured
his taking a less pedantic and bigoted view of his duties. Still,
though Dryden's dirty plays would have encountered no objection before
such a tribunal, the same facilities were not likely to be accorded to
anything which bore the name of John Milton, ex-secretary to Oliver,
and himself an austere republican. Tomkyns--that was the young
chaplain's name--did stumble at a phrase in Book i, 598,

    With fear of change
    Perplexes monarchs.

There had been in England, and were to be again, times when men had
hanged for less than this. Tomkyns, who was sailing on the smooth sea
of preferment with a fair wind, did not wish to get into trouble, but
at last he let the book pass, Perhaps he thought it was only religious
verse written for the sectaries, which would never be heard of
at court, or among the wits, and that therefore it was of little
consequence what it contained.

A publisher was found, notwithstanding that Paul's, or as it now was
again, St, Paul's-Churchyard had ceased to exist, in Aldersgate, which
lay outside the circuit of the conflagration. The agreement, still
preserved in the national museum, between the author, "John Milton,
gent, of the one parte, and Samuel Symons, printer, of the other
parte," is among the curiosities of our literary history. The
curiosity consists not so much in the illustrious name appended (not
in autograph) to the deed, as in the contrast between the present fame
of the book, and the waste-paper price at which the copyright is being
valued. The author received 5 l. down, was to receive a second 5 l.
when the first edition should be sold, a third 5 l. when the second,
and a fourth 5 l., when the third edition should be gone. Milton lived
to receive the second 5 l., and no more, 10 l. in all, for _Paradise
Lost_. I cannot bring myself to join in the lamentations of the
biographers over this bargain. Surely it is better so; better to know
that the noblest monument of English letters had no money value, than
to think of it as having been paid for at a pound the line.

The agreement with Symons is dated 27 April, 1667, the entry in the
register of Stationers' Hall is 20th August. It was therefore in the
autumn of 1667 that _Paradise Lost_ was in the hands of the public.
We have no data for the time occupied in the composition of _Paradise
Regained_ and _Samson Agonistes_. We have seen that the former poem
was begun at Chalfont in 1665, and it may be conjecturally stated that
_Samson_ was finished before September, 1667. At any rate, both the
poems were published together in the autumn of 1670.

Milton had four years more of life granted him after this publication.
But he wrote no more poetry. It was as if he had exhausted his
strength in a last effort, in the Promethean agony of Samson, and knew
that his hour of inspiration was passed away. But, like all men who
have once tasted the joys and pangs of composition, he could not now
do without its excitement. The occupation, and the indispensable
solace of the last ten sad years, had been his poems. He would not
write more verse, when the oestrus was not on him, but he must write.
He took up all the dropped threads of past years, ambitious plans
formed in the fulness of vigour, and laid aside, but not abandoned. He
was the very opposite of Shelley, who could never look at a piece of
his own composition a second time, but when he had thrown it off at a
heat, rushed into something else. Milton's adhesiveness was such that
he could never give up a design once entered upon. In these four
years, as if conscious that his time was now nearly out, he laboured
to complete five such early undertakings.

(1.) Of his _Compendium of Theology_ I have already spoken. He was
overtaken by death while preparing this for the press.

(2.) His _History of Britain_ must hare cost him much labour, bestowed
upon comparison of the conflicting authorities. It is the record of
the studies he had made for his abandoned epic poem, and is evidence
how much the subject occupied his mind.

The _History of Britain_, 1670, had been preceded by (3) a Latin
grammar, in 1669, and was followed by (4) a Logic on, the method of
Ramus, 1672.

(5.) In 1673 he brought out a new edition of his early volume of
_Poems_. In this volume he printed for the first time the sonnets, and
other pieces, which had been written in the interval of twenty-seven
years, since the date of his first edition. Not, indeed, all the
sonnets which we now have. Four, in which Fairfax, Vane, Cromwell, and
the Commonwealth are spoken of as Milton would speak of them, were
necessarily kept back, and not put into print till 1694, by Phillips,
at the end of his life of his uncle.

In proportion to the trouble which Milton's words cost him, was his
care in preserving them. His few Latin letters to his foreign friends
are remarkably barren either of fact or sentiment. But Milton liked
them well enough to have kept copies of them, and now allowed a
publisher, Brabazon Aylmer, to issue them in print, adding to them,
with a view to make out a volume, his college exercises, which he had
also preserved.

Among the papers which he left at his death, were the beginnings of
two undertakings, either of them of overwhelming magnitude, which
he did not live to complete. We have seen that he taught his pupils
geography out of _Davity, Description de l'Univers_. He was not
satisfied with this, or with any existing compendium. They were all
dry; exact enough with their latitudes and longitudes, but omitted
such uninteresting stuff as manners, government, religion, &c. Milton
would essay a better system. All he had ever executed was Russia,
taking the pains to turn over and extract for his purpose all the best
travels in that country. This is the fragment which figures in his
Works as a _Brief History of Moscovia_.

The hackneyed metaphor of Pegasus harnessed to a luggage trolley,
will recur to us when we think of the author of _L'Allegro_, setting
himself to compile a Latin lexicon. If there is any literary drudgery
more mechanical than another, it is generally supposed to be that of
making a dictionary. Nor had he taken to this industry as a resource
in age, when the genial flow of invention had dried up, and original
composition had ceased to be in his power. The three folio volumes of
MS. which Milton left were the work of his youth; it was a work which
the loss of eyesight of necessity put an end to. It is not Milton
only, but all students who read with an alert mind, reading to grow,
and not to remember, who have felt the want of an occupation which
shall fill those hours when mental vigilance is impossible, and
vacuity unendurable. Index-making or cataloguing has been the resource
of many in such hours. But it was not, I think, as a mere shifting of
mental posture that Milton undertook to rewrite Robert Stephens; it
was as part of his language training. Only by diligent practice and
incessant exercise of attention and care, could Milton have educated
his susceptibility to the specific power of words, to the nicety which
he attained beyond any other of our poets. Part of this education is
recorded in the seemingly withered leaves of his Latin Thesaurus,
though the larger part must have been achieved, not by a reflective
and critical collection of examples, but by a vital and impassioned
reading.

Milton's complaint was what the profession of that day called gout.
"He would be very cheerful even in his gout fits, and sing," says
Aubrey. This gout returned again and again, and by these repeated
attacks wore out his resisting power. He died of the "gout struck in"
on Sunday, 8th November, 1674, and was buried, near his father, in the
chancel of St. Giles's, Cripplegate. The funeral was attended, Toland
says, "by all his learned and great friends in London, not without a
friendly concourse of the vulgar." The disgusting profanation of the
leaden coffin, and dispersion of the poet's bones by the parochial
authorities, during the repair of the church in August, 1790, has been
denied, but it is to be feared the fact is too true.




CHAPTER XIII.

PARADISE LOST--PARADISE REGAINED--SAMSON AGONISTES


"Many men of forty," it has been said, "are dead poets;" and it might
seem that Milton, Latin secretary, and party pamphleteer, had died to
poetry about the fatal age. In 1645, when he made a gathering of his
early pieces for the volume published by Humphry Moseley, he wanted
three years of forty. That volume contained, besides other things,
_Comus_, _Lycidas_, _L'Allegro_, and _Il Penseroso_; then, when
produced, as they remain to this day, the finest flower of English
poesy. But, though thus like a wary husbandman, garnering his sheaves
in presence of the threatening storm, Milton had no intention of
bidding farewell to poetry. On the contrary, he regarded this volume
only as first-fruits, an earnest of greater things to come.

The ruling idea of Milton's life, and the key to his mental history,
is his resolve to produce a great poem. Not that the aspiration in
itself is singular, for it is probably shared by every young poet in
his turn. As every clever schoolboy is destined by himself or his
friends to become Lord Chancellor, and every private in the French
army carries in his haversack the bâton of a marshal, so it is a
necessary ingredient of the dream on Parnassus, that it should embody
itself in a form of surpassing brilliance. What distinguishes Milton,
from the crowd of young ambition, "audax juventa," is the constancy
of resolve. He not only nourished through manhood the dream of youth,
keeping under the importunate instincts which carry off most ambitions
in middle life into the pursuit of place, profit, honour--the thorns
which spring up and smother the wheat--but carried out his dream in
its integrity in old age. He formed himself for this achievement, and
for no other. Study at home, travel abroad, the arena of political
controversy, the public service, the practice of the domestic virtues,
were so many parts of the schooling which was to make a poet.

The reader who has traced with me thus far the course of Milton's
mental development will perhaps be ready to believe, that this idea
had taken entire possession of his mind from a very early age. The
earliest written record of it is of date 1632, In Sonnet II. This was
written as early as the poet's twenty-third year; and in these lines
the resolve is uttered, not as then just conceived, but as one long
brooded upon, and its non-fulfilment matter of self-reproach.

If this sonnet stood alone, its relevance to a poetical, or even
a literary performance, might he doubtful. But at the time of its
composition it is enclosed in a letter to an unnamed friend, who seems
to have been expressing his surprise that the Cambridge B.A. was
not settling himself, now that his education was complete, to a
profession. Milton's apologetic letter is extant, and was printed
by Birch in 1738. It intimates that Milton did not consider his
education, for the purposes he had in view, as anything like complete.
It is not "the endless delight of speculation," but "a religious
advisement how best to undergo; not taking thought of being late, so
it give advantage to be more fit." He repudiates the love of learning
for its own sake; knowledge is not an end, it is only equipment for
performance. There is here no specific engagement as to the nature of
the performance. But what it is to be, is suggested by the enclosure
of the "Petrarchian stanza" (i.e. the sonnet). This notion that his
life was like Samuel's, a dedicated life, dedicated to a service
which required a long probation, recurs again more than once in his
writings. It is emphatically repeated, in 1641, in a passage of the
pamphlet No. 4:--

  None hath by mote studious ways endeavoured, and with more unwearied
  spirit none shall,--that I dare almost aver of myself, as far as
  life and full license will extend. Neither do I think it shame to
  covenant with any knowing reader that for some few years yet I may
  go on trust with him toward the payment of what I am now indebted,
  as being a work not to be raised from the heat of youth, or the
  vapours of wine, like that which flows at waste from the pen of some
  vulgar amorist, or the trencher fury of a rhyming parasite, not
  to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her siren
  daughters, but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can
  enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim
  with the hallowed fire of his altar to touch and purify the life
  of whom he pleases. To this must be added industrious and select
  reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and generous
  acts and affairs. Till which in some measure be compassed, at mine
  own peril and cost, I refuse not to sustain this expectation, from
  as many as are not loth to hazard so much credulity upon the best
  pledges that I can give them.

In 1638, at the age of nine and twenty, Milton has already determined
that this lifework shall be a poem, an epic poem, and that its subject
shall probably be the Arthurian legend.

    Si quando indigenas revocabo in carmina regea,
    Arturumque etiam sub terris bella moventem,
    Aut dicam invictae sociali foedere mensae
    Magnanimos heroas, et, o modo spiritus adsit!
    Frangam Saxonicas Britonum sub marte phalangas.

    May I find such a friend ... when, if ever, I shall revive
    in song our native princes, and among them Arthur moving to
    the fray even in the nether world, and when I shall, if only
    inspiration be mine, break the Saxon bands before our Britons'
    prowess.

The same announcement is reproduced in the _Epitaphium Damonis_, 1639,
and, in Pamphlet No. 4, in the often-quoted words:--

  Perceiving that some trifles which I had in memory, composed at
  under twenty, or thereabout, met with acceptance.... I began to
  assent to them (the Italians) and divers of my friends here at home,
  and not less to an inward prompting which now grows dally upon me,
  that by labour and intent study, which I take to be my portion in
  this life, joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might
  perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes as they should not
  willingly let it die.

Between the publication of the collected _Poems_ in 1645, and the
appearance of _Paradise Lost_ in 1687, a period of twenty-two years,
Milton gave no public sign of redeeming this pledge. He seemed to his
cotemporaries to have renounced the follies of his youth, the gewgaws
of verse; and to have sobered down into the useful citizen, "Le bon
poëte," thought Malherbe, "n'est pas plus utile à l'état qu'un bon
joueur de quilles." Milton had postponed his poem, in 1641, till "the
land had once enfranchished herself from this impertinent yoke of
prelatry, under whose inquisitorious and tyrannical duncery no free
and splendid wit can flourish." Prelatry was swept away, and he asked
for further remand on account of the war. Peace was concluded, the
country was settled under the strong government of a Protector, and
Milton's great work did not appear. It was not even preparing. He was
writing not poetry but prose, and that most ephemeral and valueless
kind of prose, pamphlets, extempore articles on the topics of the day.
He poured out reams of them, in simple unconsciousness that they had
no influence whatever on the current of events.

Nor was it that, during all these years, Milton was meditating in
secret what he could not bring forward in public; that he was only
holding back from publishing, because there was no public ready to
listen to his song. In these years Milton was neither writing nor
thinking poetry. Of the twenty-four sonnets indeed--twenty-four,
reckoning the twenty-lined piece, "The forcers of conscience," as
a sonnet--eleven belong to this period. But they do not form a
continuous series, such as do Wordsworth's _Ecclesiastical Sonnets_,
nor do they evince a sustained mood of poetical meditation. On the
contrary, their very force and beauty consist in their being the
momentary and spontaneous explosion of an emotion welling up from the
depths of the soul, and forcing itself into metrical expression, as it
were, in spite of the writer. While the first eight sonnets, written
before 1645, are sonnets of reminiscence and intention, like those of
the Italians, or the ordinary English sonnet, the eleven sonnets of
Milton's silent period, from 1645 to 1658, are records of present
feeling kindled by actual facts. In their naked, unadorned simplicity
of language, they may easily seem, to a reader fresh from Petrarch, to
be homely and prosaic. Place them in relation to the circumstance
on which each piece turns, and we begin to feel the superiority for
poetic effect of real emotion over emotion meditated and revived.
History has in it that which can touch us more abidingly than any
fiction. It is this actuality which distinguishes the sonnets of
Milton from any other sonnets. Of this difference Wordsworth was
conscious when he struck out the phrase, "In his hand the _thing
became_ a trumpet." Macaulay compared the sonnets in their majestic
severity to the collects, They remind us of a Hebrew psalm, with its
undisguised outrush of rage, revenge, exultation, or despair, where
nothing is due to art or artifice, and whose poetry is the expression
of the heart, and not a branch of literature. It is in the sonnets we
most realise the force of Wordsworth's image--

    Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea.

We are not then to look in the sonnets for latent traces of the
suspended poetic creation They come from the other side of Milton's
nature, the political, not the artistic. They are akin to the prose
pamphlets, not to _Paradise Lost_. Just when the sonnets end, the
composition of the epic was taken in hand. The last of the sonnets (23
in the ordinary numeration) was written in 1658, and it is to the same
year that our authority, Aubrey-Phillips, refers his beginning to
occupy himself with _Paradise Lost_. He had by this time settled the
two points about which he had been long in doubt, the subject, and the
form. Long before bringing himself to the point of composition, he had
decided upon the Fall of man as subject, and upon the narrative, or
epic, form, in preference to the dramatic. It is even possible that
a few isolated passages of the poem, as it now stands, may have been
written before. Of one such passage we know that it was written
fifteen or sixteen years before 1658, and while he was still
contemplating a drama. The lines are Satan's speech, _P. L._ iv. 32,
beginning,--

    O, thou that with surpassing glory crowned.

These lines, Phillips says, his uncle recited to him, as forming the
opening of his tragedy. They are modelled, as the classical reader
will perceive, upon Euripides. Possibly they were not intended for the
very first lines, since if Milton intended to follow the practice of
his model, the lofty lyrical tone of this address should have been
introduced by a prosaic matter-of-fact setting forth of the situation,
as in the Euripidean prologue. There are other passages in the poem
which have the air of being insititious in the place where they stand.
The lines in Book iv, now in question, may reasonably be referred to
1640-42, the date of those leaves in the Trinity College MS., in
which Milton has written down, with his own hand, various sketches of
tragedies, which might possibly be adopted as his final choice.

A passage in _The Reason of Church Government_, written at the same
period, 1641, gives us the the fullest account of his hesitation. It
was a hesitation caused, partly by the wealth of matter which his
reading suggested to him, partly by the consciousness that he ought
not to begin in haste while each year was ripening his powers. Every
one who has undertaken a work of any length has made the experience,
that the faculty of composition will not work with ease, until the
reason is satisfied that the subject chosen is a congenial one. Gibbon
has told us himself of the many periods of history upon which he tried
his pen, even after the memorable 16 October, 1764, when he "sate
musing amid the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed friars
were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter." We know how many
sketches of possible tragedies Recine would make before he could
adopt one as the appropriate theme, on which he could work with that
thorough enjoyment of the labour, which is necessary to give life and
verve to any creation, whether of the poet or the orator.

The leaves of the Trinity College MS., which are contemporary with his
confidence to the readers of his tract _Of Church Government_, exhibit
a list of nearly one hundred subjects, which, had occurred to him from
time to time as practicable subjects. From the mode of entry we see
that, already in 1641, a scriptural was likely to have tie preference
over a profane subject, and that among scriptural subjects _Paradise
Lost_ (the familiar title appears in this early note), stands out
prominently above the rest. The historical subjects are all taken from
native history, none are foreign, and all are from the time before
the Roman conquest. The scriptural subjects are partly from the Old,
partly from the New, Testament. Some of these subjects are named and
nothing more, while others are slightly sketched out. Among these
latter--are _Baptistes_, on the death of John the Baptist, and
_Christus Patiens_, apparently to be confined to the agony in the
garden. Of _Paradise Lost_ there are four drafts in greater detail
than any of the others. These drafts of the plot or action, though
none of them that which was finally adopted, are sufficiently near to
the action of the poem as it stands, to reveal to as the fact that the
author's imaginative conception of what he intended to produce was
generated, cast, and moulded, at a comparatively early age. The
commonly received notion, therefore, with which authors, as they age,
are wont to comfort themselves, that one of the greatest feats of
original invention achieved by man, was begun after fifty, must be
thus far modified. _Paradise Lost_ was _composed_ after fifty, but
was _conceived_ at thirty-two. Hence the high degree of perfection
realised in the total result. For there were combined to produce it
the opposite virtues of two distinct periods of mental development;
the daring imagination and fresh emotional play of early manhood, with
the exercised judgment and chastened taste of ripened years. We have
regarded the twenty-five years of Milton's life between 1641 and the
commencement of _Paradise Lost_, as time ill laid out upon inferior
work which any one could do, and which was not worth doing by any one.
Yet it may be made a question if in any other mode than by adjournment
of his early design, Milton could have attained to that union of
original strength with severe restraint, which distinguishes from all
other poetry, except that of Virgil, the three great poems of his old
age. If the fatigue of age is sometimes felt in _Paradise Regained_,
we feel in _Paradise Lost_ only (in the words of Chateaubriand), "la
maturité de l'âge à travers les passions des légères années; une
charme extraordinaire de vieillesse et de jeunesse."

A still further inference is warranted by the Trinity College jottings
of 1641. Not the critics merely, but readers ready to sympathise, have
been sometimes inclined to wish that Milton had devoted his power to a
more human subject, in which the poet's invention could have had freer
play, and for which his reader's interest could have been more
ready. And it has been thought that the choice of a Biblical subject
indicates the narrowing effect of age, adversity, and blindness
combined. We now know that the Fall was the theme, if not determined
on, at least predominant in Milton's thoughts, at the age of
thirty-two. His ripened judgment only approved a selection made
in earlier years, and in days full of hope. That in selecting a
scriptural subject he was not In fact exercising any choice, but was
determined by his circumstances, is only what must be said of all
choosing. With all his originality, Milton was still a man of his
age. A Puritan poet, in a Puritan environment, could not have done
otherwise. But even had choice been in his power, it is doubtful if he
would have had the same success with a subject taken from history.

First, looking at his public. He was to write in English. This, which
had at one time been matter of doubt, had at an early stage come to be
his decision. Sot had the choice of English been made for the sake
of popularity, which he despised. He did not desire to write for the
many, but for the few. But he was enthusiastically patriotic. He had
entire contempt for the shouts of the mob, but the English nation,
as embodied in the persons of the wise and good, he honoured and
reverenced with all the depth of his nature. It was for the sake of
his nation that he was to devote his life to a work, which was to
ennoble her tongue among the languages of Europe.

He was then to write in English, for the English, not popularly,
but nationally. This resolution at once limited his subject. He who
aspires to be the poet of a nation is bound to adopt a hero who is
already dear to that people, to choose a subject and characters
which are already familiar to them. This is no rule of literary art
arbitrarily enacted by the critics, it is a dictate of reason, and has
been the practice of all the great national poets. The more obvious
examples will occur to every reader, But it may be observed that even
the Greek tragedians, who addressed a more limited audience than the
epic poets, took their plots from the best known legends touching the
fortunes of the royal houses of the Hellenic race. Now to the English
reader of the seventeenth century--and the same holds good to this
day--there were only two cycles of persons and events sufficiently
known beforehand to admit of being assumed by a poet. He must go
either to the Bible, or to the annals of England. Thus far Milton's
choice of subject was limited by the consideration of the public for
whom he wrote.

Secondly, he was still farther restricted by a condition which the
nature of his own intelligence imposed upon himself. It was necessary
for Milton that the events and personages, which were to arouse and
detain his interests, should be real events and personages. The mere
play of fancy with the pretty aspects of things could not satisfy him;
he wanted to feel beneath him a substantial world of reality. He
had not the dramatist's imagination which can body forth fictitious
characters with such life-like reality that it can, and does itself,
believe in their existence. Macaulay has truly said that Milton's
genius is lyrical, not dramatic. His lyre will only echo real emotion,
and his imagination is only stirred by real circumstances. In his
youth he had been within the fascination of the romances of chivalry,
as well in their original form, as in the reproductions of Ariosto
and Spenser. While under this influence he had thought of seeking his
subject among the heroes of these lays of old minstrelsy. And as one
of his principles was that his hero must be a national hero, it was of
course upon the Arthurian cycle that his aspiration fixed. When he did
so, he no doubt believed at least the historical existence of Arthur.
As soon, however, as he came to understand the fabulous basis of the
Arthurian legend, it became unfitted for his use. In the Trinity
College MS. of 1641, Arthur has already disappeared from the list of
possible subjects, a list which contains thirty-eight suggestions of
names from British or Saxon history, such as Vortigern, Edward the
Confessor, Harold, Macbeth, &c. While he demanded the basis of reality
for his personages, he at the same time, with a true instinct,
rejected all that fell within the period of well-ascertained history.
He made the Conquest the lower limit of his choice. In this negative
decision against historical romance we recognise Milton's judgment,
and his correct estimate of his own powers. Those who have been
thought to succeed best in engrafting fiction upon history, Shakspeare
or Walter Scott, have been eminently human poets, and have achieved
their measure of success by investing some well-known name with the
attributes of ordinary humanity such as we all know it. This was
precisely what Milton could not have done. He had none of that
sympathy with which Shakspeare embraced all natural and common
affections of his brother men. Milton, burning as he did with a
consuming fire of passion, and yearning for rapt communion with select
souls, had withal an aloofness from ordinary men sad women, and a
proud disdain of commonplace joy and sorrow, which has led hasty
biographers and critics to represent him as hard, austere, an iron man
of iron mould. This want of interest in common life disqualified him
for the task of revivifying historic scenes.

Milton's mental constitution, then, demanded in the material upon
which it was to work, a combination of qualities such as very few
subjects could offer. The events and personages must be real and
substantial, for he could not occupy himself seriously with airy
nothings and creatures of pure fancy. Yet they must not be such
events and personages as history had pourtrayed to us with well-known
characters, and all their virtues, faults, foibles, and peculiarities.
And, lastly, it was requisite that they should be the common property
and the familiar interest of a wide circle of English readers.

These being the conditions required in the subject, it is obvious
that no choice was left to the poet in the England of the seventeenth
century but a biblical subject. And among the many picturesque
episodes which the Hebrew Scriptures present, the narrative of the
Fall stands out with a character of all-embracing comprehensiveness
which belongs to no other single event in the Jewish annals. The first
section of the book of Genesis clothes in a dramatic form the dogmatic
idea from which was developed in the course of ages the whole scheme
of Judaico-Christian anthropology. In this world-drama, Heaven above
and Hell beneath, the powers of light and those of darkness, are both
brought upon the scene in conflict with each other, over the fate
of the inhabitants of our globe, a minute ball of matter suspended
between two infinities. This gigantic and unmanageable material is so
completely mastered by the poet's imagination, that we are made to
feel at one and the same time the petty dimensions of our earth in
comparison with primordial space and almighty power, and the profound
import to us of the issue depending on the conflict. Other poets, of
inferior powers, have from time to time attempted, with different
degrees of success, some of the minor Scriptural histories; Bodmer,
the Noachian Deluge; Solomon Gessner, the Death of Abel, &c. And
Milton himself, after he had spent his full strength upon his greater
theme, recurred in _Samson Agonistes_ to one such episode, which he
had deliberately set aside before, as not giving verge enough for the
sweep of his soaring conception.

These considerations duly weighed, it will be found, that the subject
of the Fall of Man was not so much Milton's choice as his necessity.
Among all the traditions of the peoples of the earth, there is not
extant another story which, could have been adequate to his demands.
Biographers may have been, somewhat misled by his speaking of himself
as "long choosing and beginning late." He did not begin till 1658,
when he was already fifty, and it has been somewhat hastily inferred
that he did not choose till the date at which he began, But, as we
have seen, he had already chosen at least as early as 1642, when, the
plan of a drama on the subject, and under the title, of _Paradise
Lost_ was fully developed. In the interval between 1642 and 1658, he
changed the form from a drama to an epic, but his choice remained
unaltered. And as the address to the sun (_Paradise Lost_, iv, 32) was
composed at the earlier of these dates, it appears that he had already
formulated even the rhythm and cadence of the poem that was to be.
Like Wordsworth's "Warrior"--

                               He wrought
    Upon the plan that pleas'd his boyish thought.

I have said that this subject of the Fall was Milton's necessity,
being the only subject which his mind, "in the spacious circuits of
her musing," found large enough. But as it was no abrupt or arbitrary
choice, so it was not forced upon him from without, by suggestion of
friends, or command of a patron, We must again remind ourselves that
Milton had a Calvinistic bringing up. And Calvinism in pious Puritan
souls of that fervent age was not the attenuated creed of the
eighteenth century, the Calvinism which went not beyond personal
gratification of safety for oneself, and for the rest damnation. When
Milton was being reared, Calvinism was not old and effete, a mere
doctrine. It was a living system of thought, and one which carried the
mind upwards towards the Eternal will, rather than downwards towards
my personal security. Keble has said of the old Catholic views,
founded on sacramental symbolism, that they are more poetical than
any other religious conception. But it must be acknowledged that a
predestinarian scheme, leading the cogitation upward to dwell upon
"the heavenly things before the foundation of the world," opens a
vista of contemplation and poetical framework, with which none other
in the whole cycle of human thought can compare. Not election
and reprobation as set out in the petty chicanery of Calvin's
_Institutes_, but the prescience of absolute wisdom revolving all the
possibilities of time, space, and matter. Poetry has been defined as
"the suggestion by the image of noble grounds for noble emotions,"
and, in this respect, none of the world-epics--there are at most
five or six such in existence--can compete with _Paradise Lost_.
The melancholy pathos of Lucretius indeed pierces the heart with a
two-edged sword more keen than Milton's, but the compass of Lucretius'
horizon is much less, being limited to this earth and its inhabitants.
The horizon of _Paradise Lost_ is not narrower than all space, its
chronology not shorter than eternity; the globe of our earth becomes
a mere spot in the physical universe, and that universe itself a drop
suspended in the infinite empyrean. His aspiration had thus reached
"one of the highest arcs that human contemplation circling upwards can
make from the glassy sea whereon she stands" (_Doctr. and Disc_.),
Like his contemporary Pascal, his mind had beaten her wings against
the prison walls of human thought.

The vastness of the scheme of _Paradise Lost_ may become more apparent
to us if we remark that, within its embrace, there to be equal place
for both the systems of physical astronomy which were current in the
seventeenth century. In England, about the time _Paradise Lost_ was
being written, the Copernican theory, which placed the sun in the
centre of our system, was already the established belief of the few
well-informed. The old Ptolemaic or Alphonsine system, which explained
the phenomena on the hypothesis of nine (or ten) transparent hollow
spheres wheeling round the stationary earth, was still the received
astronomy of ordinary people. These two beliefs, the one based on
science, though still wanting the calculation which Newton was to
supply to make it demonstrative, the other supported by the tradition
of ages, were, at the time we speak of, in presence of each other in
the public mind. They are in presence of each other also in Milton's
epic. And the systems confront each other in the poem, in much the
same relative position which they occupied in the mind of the public.
The ordinary, habitual mode of speaking of celestial phenomena is
Ptolemaic (see _Paradise Lost_, vii. 339; iii. 481). The conscious,
or doctrinal, exposition of the same phenomena is Copernican (see
_Paradise Lost_, viii. 122). Sharp as is the contrast between the two
systems, the one being the direct contradictory of the other, they are
lodged together, not harmonised, within the vast circuit of the poet's
imagination. The precise mechanism of an object so little as is
our world in comparison with the immense totality may be justly
disregarded. "De minimis non curat poeta." In the universe of being
the difference between a heliocentric and a geocentric theory of our
solar system is of as small moment, as the reconcilement of fixed
fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute is in the realm of absolute
intelligence. The one Is the frivolous pastime of devils; the other
the Great Architect

    Hath left to there disputes, perhaps to move
    His laughter at their quaint opinions wide.

As one, and the principal, inconsistency in Milton's presentment of
his matter has now been, mentioned, a general remark may be made upon
the conceptual incongruities in _Paradise Lost_. The poem abounds in
such, and the critics, from Addison downwards, have busied themselves
in finding out more and more of them. Milton's geography of the world
is as obscure and untenable as that of Herodotus. The notes of time
cannot stand together. To give an example: Eve says (_Paradise Lost_,
iv. 449)--

    That day I oft remember, when from sleep
    I first awak'd.

But in the chronology of the poem, Adam himself, whose creation
preceded that of Eve, was but three days old at the time this
reminiscence is repeated to him. The mode in which the Son of God
is spoken of is not either consistent Athanasianism or consistent
Arianism. Above all there is an incessant confusion of material and
immaterial in the acts ascribed to the angels. Dr. Johnson, who wished
for consistency, would have had it preserved "by keeping immateriality
out of sight." And a general arraignment has been laid against Milton
of a vagueness and looseness of imagery, which contrasts unfavourably
with the vivid and precise detail of other poets, of Homer or of
Dante, for example.

Now first, it must be said that Milton is not one of the poets of
inaccurate imagination. He could never, like Scott, have let the
precise picture of the swan on "still Saint Mary's lake" slip into the
namby-pamby "sweet Saint Mary's lake." When he intends a picture, he
is unmistakably distinct; his outline is firm and hard. But he is not
often intending pictures. He is not, like Dante, always seeing--he is
mostly thinking in a dream, or as Coleridge best expressed it, he is
not a picturesque, but a musical poet. The pictures in _Paradise Lost_
are like the paintings on the walls of some noble hall--only part of
the total magnificence. He did not aim at that finish of minute parts
in which, each bit fits into every other. For it was only by such
disregard of minutiae that the theme could be handled at all. The
impression of vastness, the sense that everything, as Bishop Butler
says, "runs up into infinity," would have been impaired if he had
drawn attention to the details of his figures. Had he had upon his
canvas only a single human incident, with ordinary human agents, he
would have known, as well as other far inferior artists, how to secure
perfection of illusion by exactness of detail. But he had undertaken
to present, not the world of human experience, but a supernatural
world, peopled by supernatural beings, God and his Son, angels and
archangels, devils; a world in which Sin and Death, may be personified
without palpable absurdity. Even his one human pair are exceptional
beings, from whom we are prepared not to demand conformity to the laws
of life which now prevail in our world. Had he presented all these
spiritual personages in definite form to the eyes the result would
have been degradation. We should have had the ridiculous instead of
the sublime, as in the scene of the _Iliad_, where Diomede wounds
Aphrodite in the hand, and sends her crying home to her father.
Once or twice Milton has ventured too near the limit of material
adaptation, trying to explain _how_ angelic natures subsist, as in the
passage (_Paradise Lost_, v. 405) where Raphael tells Adam that angels
eat and digest food like man. Taste here receives a shock, because the
incongruity, which before was latent, is forced upon our attention. We
are threatened with being transported out of the conventional world
of Heaven, Hell, Chaos, and Paradise, to which we had well adapted
ourselves, into the real world in which we know that such beings could
not breathe and move.

For the world of _Paradise Lost_ is an ideal, conventional world,
quite as much as the world of the _Arabian Nights_, or the world
of the chivalrous romance, or that of the pastoral novel. Not only
dramatic, but all, poetry is founded on illusion. We must, though it
be but for the moment, suppose it true. We must be transported out of
the actual world into that world in which the given scene is laid. It
is chiefly the business of the poet to effect this transportation, but
the reader (or hearer) must aid. "Willst du Dichter ganz verstehen,
musst in Dichter's Lande gehen." If the reader's imagination is not
active enough to assist the poet, he must at least not resist him.
When we are once inside the poet's heaven, our critical faculty may
justly require that what takes place there shall be consistent with
itself, with the laws of that fantastic world. But we may not begin by
objecting that it is impossible that such a world should exist. If,
in any age, the power of imagination is enfeebled, the reader becomes
more unable to make this effort; he ceases to co-operate with the
poet. Much of the criticism on _Paradise Lost_ which we meet with
resolves itself into a refusal on the part of the critic, to make
that initial abondonment to the conditions which the poet demands;
a determination to insist that his heaven, peopled with deities,
dominations, principalities, and powers, shall have the same material
laws which govern our planetary system. It is not, as we often hear it
said, that the critical faculty is unduly developed in the nineteenth
century. It is that the imaginative faculty fails us; and when that
is the case, criticism is powerless--it has no fundamental assumption
upon which its judgments can proceed,

It is the triumph of Milton's skill to have made his ideal world
actual, if not to every English mind's eye, yet to a larger number of
minds than have ever been reached by any other poetry in our language.
Popular (in the common use of the word) Milton has not been, and
cannot be. But the world he created has taken possession of the public
mind. Huxley complains that the false cosmogony, which will not
yield, to the conclusions of scientific research, is derived from the
seventh, book of _Paradise Lost_, rather than, from Genesis. This
success Milton owes partly to his selection of his subject, partly to
his skill in handling it. In his handling, he presents his spiritual
existences with just so much relief as to endow them with life and
personality, and not with, that visual distinctness which would at
once reveal their spectral immateriality, and so give a shock to the
illusion. We might almost say of his personages that they are shapes,
"if shape it might be called, that shape had none." By his art of
suggestion by association, he does all he can to aid us to realise
his agents, and at the moment when distinctness would disturb, he
withdraws the object into a mist, and so disguises the incongruities
which he could not avoid. The tact that avoids difficulties inherent
in the nature of things, is an art which gets the least appreciation
either in life or in literature.

But if we would have some measure of the skill which in _Paradise
Lost_ has made impossible beings possible to the imagination, we may
find it in contrasting them with the incarnated abstraction and spirit
voices, which we encounter at every turn in Shelley, creatures who
leave behind them no more distinct impression than that we have been
in a dream peopled with ghosts. Shelley, too,

    Voyag'd th' unreal, vast, unbounded deep
    Of horrible confusion.

    _Paradise Lost_, x. 470.

and left it the chaos which he found it. Milton has elicited from
similar elements a conception so life-like that his poetical version
has inseparably grafted itself upon, if it has not taken the place of,
the historical narrative of the original creation.

So much Milton has effected by his skilful treatment. But the illusion
was greatly facilitated by his choice of subject. He had not to create
his supernatural personages, they were already there. The Father, and
the Son, the Angels, Satan, Baal and Moloch, Adam and Eve, were in
full possession of the popular imagination, and more familiar to it
than any other set of known names. Nor was the belief accorded to them
a half belief, a bare admission of their possible existence, such
as prevails at other times or in some countries. In the England of
Milton, the angels and devils of the Jewish Scriptures were more real
beings, and better vouched, than any historical personages could be.
The old chronicles were full of lies, but this was Bible truth. There
might very likely have been a Henry VIII, and he might have been such
as he is described, but at any rate he was dead and gone, while Satan
still lived and walked the earth, the identical Satan who had deceived
Eve.

Nor was it only to the poetic public that his personages were real,
true, and living beings. The poet himself believed as entirely in
their existence as did his readers. I insist upon this point, because
one of the first of living critics has declared of _Paradise Lost_
that it is a poem in which every artifice of invention, is consciously
employed, not a single fact being, for an instant, conceived as
tenable by any living faith. (Ruskin, _Sesame and Lilies_, p. 138). On
the contrary, we shall not rightly apprehend either the poetry or the
character of the poet until we feel that throughout _Paradise Lost_,
as in _Paradise Regained_ and _Samson_, Milton felt himself to he
standing on the sure ground of fact and reality. It was not in
Milton's nature to be a showman, parading before an audience a
phantasmagoria of spirits, which he himself knew to be puppets tricked
up for the entertainment of an idle hour. We are told by Lockhart,
that the old man who told the story of Gilpin Horner to Lady Dalkeith
_bonâ fide_ believed the existence of the elf. Lady Dalkeith repeated
the tale to Walter Scott, who worked it up with consummate skill into
the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_. This is a case of a really believed
legend of diablerie becoming the source of a literary fiction. Scott
neither believed in the reality of the goblin page himself, nor
expected his readers to believe it. He could not rise beyond the
poetry of amusement, and no poetry with only this motive can ever be
more than literary art.

Other than this was Milton's conception of his own function. Of the
fashionable verse, such as was written in the Caroline age, or in
any age, he disapproved, not only because it was imperfect art, but
because it was untrue utterance. Poems that were raised "from the heat
of youth, or the vapours of wine, like that which flows at waste from
the pen of some vulgar amourist, or the trencher fury of a rhyming
parasite," were in his eyes treachery to the poet's high vocation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Poetical powers "are the inspired gift of God rarely bestowed ... in
every nation, and are of power, beside the office of a pulpit, to
imbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and
public civility, to allay the perturbation of the mind, and set the
affections in right tune; to celebrate in glorious and lofty hymns the
throne and equipage of God's almightiness, and what he works, and what
he suffers to be wrought with high providence in his church; to sing
victorious agonies of martyrs and saints, the deeds and triumphs of
just and pious nations, doing valiantly through faith against the
enemies of Christ; to deplore the general relapses of kingdoms and
states from justice and God's true worship."

       *       *       *       *       *

So he had written in 1642, and this lofty faith in his calling
supported him twenty years later, in the arduous labour of his attempt
to realise his own ideal. In setting himself down to compose _Paradise
Lost_ and _Regained_, he regarded himself not as an author, but as a
medium, the mouthpiece of "that eternal Spirit who can enrich with
all utterance and all knowledge: Urania, heavenly muse," visits him
nightly,

    And dictates to me Blumb'ring, or inspires
    Easy my unpremeditated verse.

    _Paradise Lost_, ix. 24.

Urania bestows the flowing words and musical sweetness; to God's
Spirit he looks to

    Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
    Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence

    Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
    Of things invisible to mortal sight.

    _Paradise Lost,/i>, iii, 50.

The singers with whom he would fain equal himself are not Dante, or
Tasso, or, as Dryden would have it, Spenser, but

    Blind Thamyris, and blind Maeonides,
    And Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old.

As he in equalled with these in misfortune--loss of sight--he would
emulate them in function. Orpheus and Musaeus are the poets he would
fain have as the companions of his midnight meditation (_Penseroso_).
And the function of the poet is like that of the prophet in the old
dispensation, not to invent, but to utter. It is God's truth which
passes His lips--lips hallowed by the touch of sacred fire. He is the
passive instrument through whom flows the emanation from on high; His
words are not his own, but a suggestion. Even for style Milton is
indebted to his "celestial patroness who deigns her nightly visitation
unimplor'd."

Milton was not dependent upon a dubious tradition in the subject he
had selected. Man's fall and recovery were recorded in the Scriptures.
And the two media of truth, the internal and the external, as deriving
from the same source, must needs be in harmony. That the Spirit
enlightens the mind within, in this belief the Puritan saint, the
poet, and the prophet, who all met in Milton, were at one. That the
Old Testament Scriptures were also a revelation, from God, was an
article of faith which he had never questioned. Nor did he only
receive these books as conveying in substance a divine view of the
world's history, he regarded them as in the letter a transcript
of fact. If the poet-prophet would tell the story of creation or
redemption, he was thus restrained not only by the general outline and
imagery of the Bible, but by its very words. And here we must note the
skill of the poet in surmounting an added or artificial difficulty, in
the subject he had chosen as combined with his notion of inspiration.
He must not deviate in a single syllable from the words of the
Hebrew books. He must take up into his poem the whole of the sacred
narrative. This he must do, not merely because his readers would
expect such literal accuracy from him, but because to himself that
narrative was the very truth which he was, undertaking to deliver.
The additions which his fancy or inspiration might supply must be
restrained by this severe law, that they should be such as to aid the
reader's imagination to conceive how the event took place. They must
by no means be suffered to alter, disfigure, traduce the substance or
the letter of the revelation. This is what Milton has done. He has
told the story of creation in the very words of Scripture. The whole
of the seventh book, is little more than a paraphrase of a few verses
of Genesis. What he has added is so little incongruous with his
original, that most English men and women would probably have some
difficulty in discriminating in recollection the part they derive from
Moses, from that which they have added from the paraphrast. In Genesis
it is the serpent who tempts Eve, in virtue of his natural wiliness.
In Milton it is Satan who has entered into the body of a serpent, and
supplied the intelligence. Here indeed Milton was only adopting a
gloss, as ancient at least as the Book of Wisdom (ii. 24). But it is
the gloss, and not the text of Moses, which is in possession of
our minds, and who has done most to lodge it there, Milton or the
commentators?

Again, it is Milton and not Moses who makes the serpent pluck and eat
the first apple from the tree. But Bp. Wilson comments upon the words
of Genesis (iii, 6) as though they contained this purely Miltonic
circumstance,

It could hardly but he that one or two of the incidents which Milton
has supplied, the popular imagination has been unable to homologate.
Such an incident is the placing of artillery in the wars in heaven, We
reject this suggestion, and find it mars probability. But It would not
seam so Improbable to Milton's contemporaries; not only because it was
an article of the received poetic tradition (see _Ronsard_ 6, p. 40),
but also because fire-arms had not quite ceased to be regarded as a
devilish enginery of a new warfare, unfair in the knightly code of
honour, a base substitute of mechanism for individual valour. It
was gunpowder and not _Don Quixote_ which had destroyed, the age of
chivalry,

Another of Milton's fictions which has been found too grotesque is the
change (_P, L._, x. 508) of the demons into serpents, who hiss their
Prince on his return from his embassy. Here it is not, I think,
so much the unnatural character of the incident itself, as its
gratuitousness which offends. It does not help us to conceive the
situation. A suggestion of Chateaubriand may therefore go some way
towards reconciling the reader even to this caprice of imagination.
It indicates, he says, the degradation of Satan, who, from the superb
Intelligence of the early scenes of the poem, is become at its close a
hideous reptile. He has not triumphed, but has failed, and is degraded
into the old dragon, who haunts among the damned. The braising of his
head has already commenced.

The bridge, again, which Sin and Death construct (_Paradise Lost_, x.
300), leading from the mouth of hell to the wall of the world, has a
chilling effect upon the imagination of a modern reader. It does not
assist the conception of the cosmical system which we accept in the
earlier books. This clumsy fiction seems more at home in the grotesque
and lawless mythology of the Turks, or in the Persian poet Sadi, who
is said by Marmontel to have adopted it from the Turk. If Milton's
intention were to reproduce Jacob's ladder, he should, like Dante
(_Parad_, xxi. 25), have made it the means of communication between
heaven and earth.

It is possible that Milton himself, after the experiment of _Paradise
Lost_ was fully before him, suspected that he had supplemented
too much for his purpose; that his imagery, which was designed to
illustrate history, might stand in its light. For in the composition
of _Paradise Regained_ (published 1671) he has adopted a much severer
style. In this poem he has not only curbed his imagination, but has
almost suppressed it. He has amplified, but has hardly introduced any
circumstance which is not in the original. _Paradise Regained_ is
little more than a paraphrase of the Temptation as found in the
synoptical gospels. It is a marvel of ingenuity that more than two
thousand lines of blank verse can have been constructed out of some
twenty lines of prose, without the addition of any invented incident,
or the insertion of any irrelevant digression. In the first three
books of _Paradise Regained_ there is not a single simile. Nor yet can
it be said that the version of the gospel narrative has the fault of
most paraphrases, viz., that of weakening the effect, and obliterating
the chiselled features of the original. Let a reader take _Paradise
Regained_ not as a theme used as a canvas for poetical embroidery, an
opportunity for an author to show off his powers of writing, but as
a _bonâ fide_ attempt to impress upon the mind the story of the
Temptation, and he will acknowledge the concealed art of the genuine
epic poet, bent before all things upon telling his tale. It will still
be capable of being alleged that the story told does not interest;
that the composition is dry, hard, barren; the style as of set purpose
divested of the attributes of poetry. It is not necessary indeed that
an epic should be in twelve books; but we do demand in an epic poem
multiplicity of character and variety of incident. In _Paradise
Regained_ there are only two personages, both of whom are
supernatural. Indeed, they can scarcely be called personages; the
poet, in his fidelity to the letter, not having thought fit to open
up the fertile vein of delineation which was afforded by the human
character of Christ. The speakers are no more than the abstract
principles of good and evil, two voices who hold a rhetorical
disputation through four books and two thousand lines.

The usual explanation of the frigidity of _Paradise Regained_ is the
suggestion, which is nearest at hand, viz., that it is the effect
of age. Like Ben Jonson's _New Inn_, it betrays the feebleness of
senility, and has one of the most certain marks of that stage of
authorship, the attempt to imitate himself in those points in which he
was once strong. When "glad no more, He wears a face of joy, because
He has been glad of yore." Or it is an "oeuvre de lassitude," a
continuation, with the inevitable defect of continuations, that of
preserving the forms and wanting the soul of the original, like the
second parts of _Faust_, of _Don Quixote_, and of so many other books.

Both these explanations of the inferiority of _Paradise Regained_ have
probability. Either of them may be true, or both may have concurred
to the common effect. In favour of the hypothesis of senility is the
fact, recorded by Phillips, that Milton "could not hear with patience
any such thing when related to him." The reader will please to note
that this is the original statement, which the critics have improved
into the statement that he preferred _Paradise Regained_ to _Paradise
Lost_. But his approval of his work, even if it did not amount to
preference, looks like the old man's fondness for his youngest and
weakest offspring.

Another view of the matter, however, is at least possible. Milton's
theory as to the true mode of handling a biblical subject was, as I
have said, to add no more dressing, or adventitious circumstance,
than should assist the conception of the sacred verity. After he had
executed _Paradise Lost_, the suspicion arose that he had been too
indulgent to his imagination; that he had created too much. He would
make a second experiment, in which he would enforce his theory with
more vigour. In the composition of _Paradise Lost_ he must have
experienced that the constraint he imposed upon himself had generated,
as was said of Racine, "a plenitude of soul." He might infer that were
the compression carried still further, the reaction of the spirit
might be still increased. Poetry he had said long before should be
"simple, sensuous, impassioned" (_Tractate of Education_). Nothing
enhances passion like simplicity. So in _Paradise Regained_ Milton has
carried simplicity of dress to the verge of nakedness. It is probably
the most unadorned poem extant in any language. He has pushed severe
abstinence to the extreme point, possibly beyond the point, where a
reader's power is stimulated by the poet's parsimony.

It may elucidate the intention of the author of _Paradise Regained_,
if we contrast it for a moment with a poem constructed upon the
opposite principle, that, viz., of the maximum of adornment,
Claudian's _Rape of Proserpine_ (A.D. 400) is one of the most rich
and elaborate poems ever written. It has in common with Milton the
circumstance that its whole action is contained in a solitary event,
viz., the carrying off of Proserpine from the vale of Henna by Pluto,
All the personages, too, are superhuman; and the incident itself
supernatural. Claudian's ambition was to overlay his story with the
gold and jewellery of expression and invention. Nothing is named
without being carved, decked, and coloured from the inexhaustible
resources of the poet's treasury. This is not done with ostentatious
pomp, as the hyperbolical heroes of vulgar novelists are painted, but
always with taste, which though lavish is discriminating.

Milton, like Wordsworth, urged his theory of parsimony farther in
practice than he would have done, had he not been possessed by a
spirit of protest against prevailing error. Milton's own ideal was the
chiselled austerity of Greek tragedy. Bat he was impelled to overdo
the system of holding back, by his desire to challenge the evil
spirit which was abroad. He would separate himself not only from the
Clevelands, the Denhams, and the Drydens, whom he did not account as
poets at all, but even from the Spenserians. Thus, instead of severe,
he became rigid, and his plainness is not unfrequently jejune.

"Pomp and ostentation of reading," he had once written, "is admired
among the vulgar; but, in matters of religion, he is learnedest who
is plainest." As Wordsworth had attempted to regenerate poetry by
recurring to nature and to common objects, Milton would revert to the
pure Word of God. He would present no human adumbration of goodness,
but Christ Himself. He saw that here absolute plainness was best. In
the presence of this unique Being silence alone became the poet. This
"higher argument" was "sufficient of itself" (_Paradise Lost_, ix.,
42).

There are some painters whose work appeals only to painters, and not
to the public. So the judgment of poets and critics has been more
favourable to _Paradise Regained_ than the opinion of the average
reader. Johnson thinks that "if it had been written, not by Milton,
but by some imitators, it would receive universal praise." Wordsworth
thought it "the most perfect in execution of anything written by
Milton." And Coleridge says of it, "in its kind it is the most perfect
poem extant."

There is a school of critics which maintains that a poem is, like a
statue or a picture, a work of pure art, of which beauty is the only
characteristic of which the reader should be cognisant. And beauty is
wholly ideal, an absolute quality, out of relation to person, time, or
circumstance. To such readers _Samson Agonistes_ will seem tame, flat,
meaningless, and artificial. From the point of view of the critic of
the eighteenth century, it is "a tragedy which only ignorance would
admire and bigotry applaud" (Dr. Johnson). If, on the other hand, it
be read as a page of contemporary history, it becomes human, pregnant
with real woe, the record of an heroic soul, not baffled by temporary
adversity, but totally defeated by an irreversible fate, and
unflinchingly accepting the situation, in the firm conviction of the
righteousness of the cause. If fiction is truer than fact, fact is
more tragic than fiction. In the course of the long struggle of human
liberty against the church, there had been terrible catastrophes.
But the St. Bartholomew, the Revocation of the Edict, the Spanish
Inquisition, the rule of Alva in the Low Countries,--these and other
days of suffering and rebuke have been left to the dull pen of the
annalist, who has variously diluted their story in his literary
circumlocution office. The triumphant royalist reaction of 1680,
when the old serpent bruised the heel of freedom by totally crushing
Puritanism, is singular in this, that the agonised cry of the beaten
party has been preserved in a cotemporary monument, the intensest
utterance of the most intense of English poets--the _Samson
Agonistes_.

In the covert representation, which we have in this drama, of the
actual wreck of Milton, his party, and his cause, is supplied that
real basis of truth which was necessary to inspire him to write. It
is of little moment that the incidents of Samson's life do not form
a strict parallel to those of Milton's life, or to the career of the
Puritan cause. The resemblance lies in the sentiment and situation,
not in the bare event. The glorious youth of the consecrated
deliverer, his signal overthrow of the Philistine foe with means so
inadequate that the hand of God was manifest in the victory; his final
humiliation, which he owed to his own weakness and disobedience, and
the present revelry and feasting of the uncircumsised Philistines in
the temple of their idol,--all these things together constitute a
parable of which no reader of Milton's day could possibly mistake the
interpretation. More obscurely adumbrated is the day of vengeance,
when virtue should return to the repentant backslider, and the
idolatrous crew should be smitten with a swift destruction in the
midst of their insolent revelry. Add to these the two great personal
misfortunes of the poet's life, his first marriage with a Philistine
woman, out of sympathy with him or his cause, and his blindness; and
the basis of reality becomes so complete, that the nominal personages
of the drama almost disappear behind the history which we read through
them.

But while for the biographer of Milton _Samson Agonistes_ is charged
with a pathos, which as the expression of real suffering no fictive
tragedy can equal, it must be felt that as a composition the drama is
languid, nerveless, occasionally halting, never brilliant. If the date
of the composition of the _Samson_ be 1663, this may have been the
result of weariness after the effort of _Paradise Lost_. If this drama
were composed in 1667, it would be the author's last poetical effort,
and the natural explanation would then be that his power over language
was failing. The power of metaphor, i.e. of indirect expression, is,
according to Aristotle, the characteristic of genius. It springs from
vividness of conception of the thing spoken of. It is evident that
this intense action of the presentative faculty is no longer at the
disposal of the writer of _Samson_. In _Paradise Regained_ we are
conscious of a purposed restraint of strength. The simplicity of its
style is an experiment, an essay of a new theory of poetic words. The
simplicity of _Samson Agonistes_ is a flagging of the forces, a drying
up of the rich sources from which had once flowed the golden stream of
suggestive phrase which makes _Paradise Lost_ a unique monument of the
English language. I could almost fancy that the consciousness of decay
utters itself in the lines (594)--

    I feel my genial spirits droop,
    My hopes all flat, nature within me seems
    In all her functions weary of herself,
    My race of glory run, and race of shame,
    And I shall shortly be with them that rest.

The point of view I have insisted on is that Milton conceives a poet
to be one who employs his imagination to make a revelation of truth,
truth which the poet himself entirely believes. One objection to
this point of view will at once occur to the reader, the habitual
employment in both poems of the fictions of pagan mythology. This is
an objection as old as Miltonic criticism. The objection came from
those readers who had no difficulty in realising the biblical scenes,
or in accepting demoniac agency, but who found their imagination
repelled by the introduction of the gods of Greece or Rome. It is not
that the biblical heaven and the Greek Olympus are incongruous, but
it is that the unreal is blended with the real, in a way to destroy
credibility.

To this objection the answer has been supplied by De Quincey. To
Milton the personages of the heathen Pantheon were not merely familiar
fictions or established poetical properties; they were evil spirits.
That they were so was the creed of the early interpreters. In their
demonology, the Hebrew and the Greek poets had a common ground. Up to
the advent of Christ, the fallen angels had been permitted to delude
mankind. To Milton, as to Jerome, Moloch was Mars, and Chemosh
Priapus. Plato knew of hell as Tartarus, and the battle of the giants
in Hesiod is no fiction, but an obscured tradition of the war once
waged in heaven. What has been adverse to Milton's art of illusion is,
that the belief that the gods of the heathen world were the rebellious
angels has ceased to be part of the common creed of Christendom.
Milton was nearly the last of our great writers who was fully
possessed of the doctrine. His readers now no longer share it with
the poet. In Addison's time (1712) some of the imaginary persons in
_Paradise Lost_ were beginning to make greater demands upon the faith
of readers, than those cool rationalistic times could meet.

There is an element of decay and death in poems which we vainly style
immortal. Some of the sources of Milton's power are already in process
of drying up. I do not speak of the ordinary caducity of language, in
virtue of which every effusion of the human spirit is lodged in a body
of death. Milton suffers little as yet from this cause. There are few
lines in his poems which are less intelligible now, than they were
at the time they were written. This is partly to be ascribed to his
limited vocabulary, Milton, in his verse, using not more than eight
thousand words, or about half the number used by Shakespeare. Nay, the
position of our earlier writers has been improved by the mere spread
of the English language over a wider area. Addison apologised for
_Paradise Lost_ falling short of the _Aeneid_, because of the
inferiority of the language in which it was written. "So divine a poem
in English is like a stately palace built of brick." The defects of
English for purposes of rhythm and harmony are as great now as they
ever were, but the space that our speech fills in the world is vastly
increased, and this increase of consideration is reflected back upon
our older writers.

But if, as a treasury of poetic speech, _Paradise Lost_ has gained by
time, it has lost far more as a storehouse of divine truth. We at this
day are better able than ever to appreciate its force of expression,
its grace of phrase, its harmony of rhythmical movement, but it is
losing its hold over our imagination. Strange to say, this failure
of vital power in the constitution of the poem is due to the very
selection of subject by which Milton sought to secure perpetuity. Not
content with being the poet of men, and with describing human passions
and ordinary events, he aspired to present the destiny of the whole
race of mankind, to tell the story of creation, and to reveal the
councils of heaven and hell. And he would raise this structure upon no
unstable base, but upon the sure foundation of the written word. It
would have been a thing incredible to Milton that the hold of the
Jewish Scriptures over the imagination of English men and women could
ever be weakened. This process, however, has already commenced. The
demonology of the poem has already, with educated readers, passed from
the region of fact into that of fiction. Not so universally, but with
a large number of readers, the angelology can be no more than what the
critics call machinery. And it requires a violent effort from any
of our day to accommodate their conceptions to the anthropomorphic
theology of _Paradise Lost_. Were the sapping process to continue at
the same rate for two more centuries, the possibility of epic illusion
would be lost to the whole scheme and economy of the poem. Milton
has taken a scheme of life for life itself. Had he, in the choice of
subject, remembered the principle of the Aristotelean Poetic (which
he otherwise highly prized), that men in action are the poet's proper
theme, he would have raised his imaginative fabric on a more permanent
foundation; upon the appetites, passions, and emotions of men, their
vices and virtues, their aims and ambitions, which are a far more
constant quantity than any theological system. This perhaps was what
Goethe meant, when he pronounced the subject of _Paradise Lost_, to be
"abominable, with a fair outside, but rotten inwardly."

Whatever fortune may be in store for _Paradise Lost_ in the time to
come, Milton's choice of subject was, at the time he wrote, the only
one which offered him the guarantees of reality, authenticity, and
divine truth, which he required. We need not therefore search the
annals of literature to find the poem which may have given the first
suggestion of the fall of man as a subject. This, however, has been
done by curious antiquaries, and a list of more than two dozen authors
has been made, from one or other of whom Milton may have taken either
the general idea or particular hints for single incidents. Milton,
without being a very wide reader, was likely to have seen the _Adamus
Exul_ of Grotius (1601), and he certainly had read Giles Fletcher's
_Christ's Victory and Triumph_ (1610). There are traces of verbal
reminiscence of Sylvester's translation of _Du Bartas_. But out of the
long catalogue of his predecessors there appear only three, who can
claim to have conceived the same theme with anything like the same
breadth, or on the same scale as Milton has done. These are the
so-called Caedmon, Andreini, and Vondel.

1. The anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem which passes under the name of
Caedmon has this one point of resemblance to the plot of _Paradise
Lost_, that in it the seduction of Eve is Satan's revenge for his
expulsion from heaven. As Francis Junius was much occupied upon this
poem of which he published the text in 1655, it is likely enough that
he should have talked of it with his friend Milton.

2. Voltaire related that Milton during his tour in Italy (1638) had
seen performed _L'Adamo_, a sacred drama by the Florentine Giovanni
Battista Andreini, and that he "took from that ridiculous trifle" the
hint of the "noblest product of human imagination." Though Voltaire
relates this as a matter of fact, it is doubtful if it be more than an
_on dit_ which he had picked up in London society. Voltaire could not
have seen Andreini's drama, for it is not at all a ridiculous trifle.
Though much of the dialogue is as insipid as dialogue in operettas
usually is, there is great invention in the plot, and animation in
the action. Andreini is incessantly offending against taste, and is
infected with the vice of the Marinists, the pursuit of _concetti_, or
far-fetched analogies between things unlike. His infernal personages
are grotesque and disgusting, rather than terrible; his scenes in
heaven childish--at once familiar and fantastic, in the style of the
Mysteries of the age before the drama. With all these faults the
_Adamo_ is a lively and spirited representation of the Hebrew legend,
and not unworthy to have been the antecedent of _Paradise Lost_. There
is no question of plagiarism, for the resemblance is not even that of
imitation or parentage, or adoption. The utmost that can be conceded
is to concur in Hayley's opinion that, either in representation or in
perusal, the _Adamo_ of Andreini had made an impression on the mind of
Milton; had, as Voltaire says, revealed to him the hidden majesty of
the subject. There had been at least three editions of the _Adamo_ by
1641, and Milton may have brought one of these with him, among the
books which he had shipped from Venice, even, if he had not seen the
drama on the Italian stage, or had not, as Todd suggests, met Andreini
in person.

So much appears to me to be certain from the internal evidence of the
two compositions as they stand. But there are further some slight
corroborative circumstances, (i.) The Trinity College sketch, so often
referred to, of Milton's scheme when it was intended to be dramatic,
keeps much more closely, both in its personages and in its ordering,
to Andreini. (ii.) In Phillips's _Theatrum Poetarum_, a compilation in
which he had his uncle's help, Andreini is mentioned as author "of
a fantastic poem entitled Olivastro, which was printed at Bologna,
1642." If Andreini was known to Edward Phillips, the inference is that
he was known to Milton.

3. Lastly, though external evidence is here wanting, it cannot be
doubted that Milton was acquainted with the _Lucifer_ of the Dutch
poet, Joost van den Vondel, which appeared in 1654. This poem is a
regular five-act drama in the Dutch language, a language which Milton
was able to read. In spite of commercial rivalry and naval war there
was much intercourse between the two republics, and Amsterdam books
came in regular course to London. The Dutch drama turns entirely on
the revolt of the angels, and their expulsion from heaven, the fall of
man being but a subordinate incident. In _Paradise Lost_ the relation
of the two events is inverted, the fall of the angels being there an
episode, not transacted, but told by one of the personages of the
epic. It is therefore only in one book of _Paradise Lost_, the sixth,
that the influence of Vondel can be looked for. There may possibly
occur in other parts of our epic single lines of which an original may
be found in Vondel's drama. Notably such a one is the often-quoted--

    Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.
    _Paradise Lost_, i. 263.

which is Vondel's--

    En liever d'eerste Vorst in eenigh lager hof
    Dan in't gezalight licht de tweede, of noch een minder!

But it is in the sixth book only in which anything more than a verbal
similarity is traceable. According to Mr. Gosse, who has given an
analysis, with some translated extracts, of Vondel's _Lucifer_, the
resemblances are too close and too numerous to be mere coincidences.
Vondel is more human than Milton, just where human attributes are
unnatural, so that heaven is made to seem like earth, while in
_Paradise Lost_ we always feel that we are in a region aloft. Miltonic
presentation has a dignity and elevation, which is not only wanting
but is sadly missed in the Dutch drama, even the language of which
seems common and familiar.

The poems now mentioned form, taken together, the antecedents of
_Paradise Lost_. In no one instance, taken singly, is the relation of
Milton to a predecessor that of imitation, not even to the extent
in which the Aeneid, for instance, is an imitation of the Iliad and
Odyssey. The originality of Milton lies not in his subject, but in his
manner; not in his thoughts, but in his mode of thinking. His story
and his personages, their acts and words, had been the common property
of all poets since the fall of the Roman Empire. Not only the three
I have specially named had boldly attempted to set forth a mythical
representation of the origin of evil, but many others had fluttered
round the same central object of poetic attraction. Many of these
productions Milton had read, and they had made their due impression on
his mind according to their degree of force. When he began to compose
_Paradise Lost_ he had the reading of a life-time behind him. His
imagination worked upon an accumulated store, to which books,
observation, and reflection had contributed in equal proportions. He
drew upon this store without conscious distinction of its sources. Not
that this was a recollected material, to which the poet had recourse
whenever invention failed him; it was identified with himself. His
verse flowed from his own soul, but his was a soul which had grown
up nourished with the spoil of all the ages. He created his epic, as
metaphysicians have said that God created the world, by drawing it out
of himself, not by building it up out of elements supplied _ab extra_.

The resemblances to earlier poets, Greek, Latin, Italian, which could
be pointed out in _Paradise Lost_, were so numerous that in 1695, only
twenty-one years after Milton's death, an editor, one Patrick Hume, a
schoolmaster in the neighbourhood of London, was employed by Tonson
to point out the imitations in an annotated edition. From that time
downwards, the diligence of our literary antiquaries has been busily
employed in the same track of research, and it has been extended to
the English poets, a field which was overlooked, or not known to the
first collector. The result is a valuable accumulation of parallel
passages, which have been swept up into our _variorum_ Miltons, and
make _Paradise Lost_, for English phraseology, what Virgil was for
Latin in the middle ages, the centre round which the study moves. The
learner, who desires to cultivate his feeling for the fine shades
and variations of expression, has here a rich opportunity, and will
acknowledge with gratitude the laborious services of Newton, Pearce,
the Wartons, Todd, Mitford, and other compilers. But these heaped-up
citations of parallel passages somewhat tend to hide from us the
secret of Miltonic language. We are apt to think that the magical
effect of Milton's words has been produced by painfully inlaying
tesserae of borrowed metaphor--a mosaic of bits culled from extensive
reading, carried along by a retentive memory, and pieced together
so as to produce a new whole, with the exquisite art of a Japanese
cabinet-maker. It is sometimes admitted that Milton was a plagiary,
but it is urged in extenuation that his plagiarisms were always
reproduced in finer forms.

It is not in the spirit of vindicating Milton, but as touching the
mystery of metrical language, that I dwell a few moments upon this
misconception. It is true that Milton has a way of making his own even
what he borrows. While Horace's thefts from Alcaeus or Pindar are
palpable, even from the care which he takes to Latinise them, Milton
cannot help transfusing his own nature into the words he adopts. But
this is far from all. When Milton's widow was asked "if he did not
often read Homer and Virgil, she understood it as an imputation upon
him for stealing from those authors, and answered with eagerness, that
he stole from nobody but the muse who inspired him." This is more
true than she knew. It is true there are many phrases or images in
_Paradise Lost_ taken from earlier writers--taken, not stolen, for the
borrowing is done openly. When Adam, for instance, begs Raphael to
prolong his discourse deep into night,--

    Sleep, listening to thee, will watch;
    Or we can bid his absence, till thy song
    End, and dismiss thee ere the morning shine;

we cannot be mistaken, in saying that we have here a conscious
reminiscence of the words of Alcinous to Ulysses in the eleventh book
of the Odyssey. Such imitation is on the surface, and does not touch
the core of that mysterious combination of traditive with original
elements in diction, which Milton and Virgil, alone of poets known to
us, have effected. Here and there, many times, in detached
places, Milton has consciously imitated. But, beyond this obvious
indebtedness, there runs through the whole texture of his verse a
suggestion of secondary meaning, a meaning which has been accreted to
the words, by their passage down the consecrated stream of classical
poetry. Milton quotes very little for a man of much reading. He says
of himself (_Judgment of Bucer_) that he "never could delight in long
citations, much less in whole traductions, whether it be natural
disposition or education in me, or that my mother bore me a speaker of
what God made mine own, and not a translator." And the observation
is as old as Bishop Newton, that "there is scarce any author who has
written so much, and upon such various subjects, and yet quotes so
little from his contemporary authors." It is said that "he could repeat
Homer almost all without book." But we know that common minds are
apt to explain to themselves the working of mental superiority, by
exaggerating the power of memory. Milton's own writings remain
a sufficient evidence that his was not a verbal memory. And,
psychologically, the power of imagination and the power of verbal
memory, are almost always found in inverse proportion.

Milton's diction is the elaborated outcome of all the best words of
all antecedent poetry, not by a process of recollected reading and
storage, but by the same mental habit by which we learn to speak our
mother tongue. Only, in the case of the poet, the vocabulary acquired
has a new meaning superadded to the words, from the occasion on which
they have been previously employed by others. Words, over and above
their dictionary signification, connote all the feeling which has
gathered round them by reason of their employment through a hundred
generations of song. In the words of Mr. Myers, "without ceasing to be
a logical step in the argument, a phrase becomes a centre of
emotional force. The complex associations which it evokes, modify
the associations evoked by other words in the same passage, in a way
distinct from logical or grammatical connection." The poet suggests
much more than he says, or as Milton himself has phrased it, "more is
meant than meets the ear."

For the purposes of poetry a thought is the representative of many
feelings, and a word is the representative of many thoughts. A single
word may thus set in motion in us the vibration of a feeling first
consigned to letters 3000 years ago. For oratory words should be
winged, that they may do their work of persuasion. For poetry words
should be freighted, with associations of feeling, that they may
awaken sympathy. It is the suggestive power of words that the poet
cares for, rather than their current denotation. How laughable are the
attempts of the commentators to interpret a line in Virgil as they
would a sentence in Aristotle's _Physics!_ Milton's secret lies in
his mastery over the rich treasure of this inherited vocabulary. He
wielded it as his own, as a second mother-tongue, the native and
habitual idiom of his thought and feeling, backed by a massive frame
of character, and "a power which is got within me to a passion."
(_Areopagitica_)

When Wordsworth came forward at the end of the eighteenth century with
his famous reform of the language of English poetry, the Miltonic
diction was the current coin paid out by every versifier. Wordsworth
revolted against this dialect as unmeaning, hollow, gaudy, and
inane. His reform consisted in dropping the consecrated phraseology
altogether, and reverting to the common language of ordinary life.
It was necessary to do this in order to reconnect poetry with the
sympathies of men, and make it again a true utterance instead of the
ingenious exercise in putting together words, which it had become.
In projecting this abandonment of the received tradition, it may
be thought that Wordsworth was condemning the Miltonic system of
expression in itself. But this was not so. Milton's language had
become in the hands of the imitators of the eighteenth century sound
without sense, a husk without the kernel, a body of words without the
soul of poetry. Milton had created and wielded an instrument which was
beyond the control of any less than himself. He used it as a living
language; the poetasters of the eighteenth century wrote it as a dead
language, as boys make Latin verses. Their poetry is to _Paradise
Lost_, as a modern Gothic restoration is to a genuine middle-age
church. It was against the feeble race of imitators, and not against
the master himself, that the protest of the lake poet was raised.
He proposed to do away with the Miltonic vocabulary altogether, not
because it was in itself vicious, but because it could now only be
employed at secondhand.

One drawback there was attendant upon the style chosen by Milton, viz.
that it narrowly limited the circle of his readers. All words are
addressed to those who understand them. The Welsh triads are not for
those who have not learnt Welsh; an English poem is only for those
who understand English. But of understanding English there are many
degrees; it requires some education to understand literary style at
all. A large majority of the natives of any country possess, and use,
only a small fraction of their mother tongue. These people may be left
out of the discussion. Confining ourselves only to that small part of
our millions which we speak of as the educated classes, that is those
whose schooling is carried on beyond fourteen years of age, it will
be found that only a small fraction of the men, and a still smaller
fraction of the women, fully apprehend the meaning of words. This is
the case with what is written in the ordinary language of books.
When we pass from a style in which words have only their simple
signification, to a style of which the effect depends on the
suggestion of collateral association, we leave behind the majority
even of these few. This is what is meant by the standing charge
against Milton that he is too learned.

It is no paradox to say that Milton was not a learned man. Such men
there were in his day, Usher, Selden, Voss, in England; in Holland,
Milton's adversary Salmasius, and many more. A learned man was one
who could range freely and surely over the whole of classical and
patristic remains in the Greek and Latin languages (at least), with
the accumulated stores of philological, chronological, historical
criticism, necessary for the interpretation of those remains. Milton
had neither made these acquisitions, nor aimed at them. He even
expresses himself, in his vehement way, with contempt of them.
"Hollow antiquities sold by the seeming bulk," "marginal stuffings,"
"horse-loads of citations and fathers," are some of his petulant
outbursts against the learning that had been played upon his position
by his adversaries. He says expressly that he had "not read the
Councils, save here and there" (_Smectymnuus_). His own practice had
been "industrious and select reading." He chose to make himself a
scholar rather than a learned man. The aim of his studies was to
improve faculty, not to acquire knowledge. "Who would be a poet must
himself be a true poem;" his heart should "contain of just, wise,
good, the perfect shape." He devoted himself to self-preparation with
the assiduity of Petrarch or of Goethe, "In wearisome labour and
studious watchings I have tired out almost a whole youth." "Labour and
intense study I take to be my portion in this life." He would know,
not all, but "what was of use to know," and form himself by assiduous
culture. The first Englishman to whom the designation of our series,
_Men of Letters_, is appropriate, Milton was also the noblest example
of the type. He cultivated, not letters, but himself, and sought to
enter into possession of his own mental kingdom, not that he might
reign there, but that he might royally use its resources in building
up a work, which should bring honour to his country and his native
tongue.

The style of _Paradise Lost_ is then only the natural expression of
a soul thus exquisitely nourished upon the best thoughts and finest
words of all ages. It is the language of one who lives in the
companionship of the great and the wise of past time. It is inevitable
that when such a one speaks, his tones, his accent, the melodies of
his rhythm, the inner harmonies of his linked thoughts, the grace of
his allusive touch, should escape the common ear. To follow Milton one
should at least have tasted the same training through which he put
himself. "Te quoque dignum finge deo." The many cannot see it, and
complain that the poet is too learned. They would have Milton talk
like Bunyan or William Cobbett, whom they understand. Milton did
attempt the demagogue in his pamphlets, only with the result of
blemishing his fame and degrading his genius. The best poetry is that
which calls upon us to rise to it, not that which writes down to us.

Milton knew that his was not the road to popularity. He thirsted for
renown, but he did not confound renown with vogue. A poet has his
choice between the many and the few; Milton chose the few. "Paucis
hujusmodi lectoribus contentus," is his own inscription in a copy
of his pamphlets sent by him to Patrick Young. He derived a stern
satisfaction from the reprobation with which the vulgar visited him.
His divorce tracts were addressed to men who dared to think, and ran
the town "numbering good intellects." His poems he wished laid up
in the Bodleian Library, "where the jabber of common people cannot
penetrate, and whence the base throng of readers keep aloof" (_Ode
to Rouse_). If Milton resembled a Roman republican in the severe and
stoic elevation of his character, he also shared the aristocratic
intellectualism of the classical type. He is in marked contrast to the
levelling hatred of excellence, the Christian trades-unionism of the
model Catholic of the mould of S. François de Sales whose maxim
of life is "marchons avec la troupe de nos frères et compagnons,
doucement, paisiblement, et amiablement." To Milton the people are--

                  But a herd confus'd,
    A miscellaneous rabble, who extol
    Things vulgar.

    _Paradise Regained_, iii. 49.

At times his indignation carries him past the courtesies of
equal speech, to pour out the vials of prophetic rebuke, when he
contemplates the hopeless struggle of those who are the salt of the
earth, "amidst the throng and noises of vulgar and irrational men"
(_Tenure of Kings_), and he rates them to their face as "owls and
cuckoos, asses, apes, and dogs" (_Sonnet_ xii.); not because they will
not listen to him, but "because they "hate learning more than toad or
asp" (_Sonnet_ ix.).

Milton's attitude must be distinguished from patrician pride, or the
_noli-me-tangere_ of social exclusiveness. Nor, again, was it, like
Callimachus's, the fastidious repulsion of a delicate taste for the
hackneyed in literary expression; it was the lofty disdain of aspiring
virtue for the sordid and ignoble.

Various ingredients, constitutional or circumstantial, concurred
to produce this repellent or unsympathetic attitude in Milton.
His dogmatic Calvinism, from the effects of which his mind never
recovered--a system which easily disposes to a cynical abasement of
our fellow-men--counted for something. Something must be set down to
habitual converse with the classics--a converse which tends to impart
to character, as Platner said of Godfrey Hermann, "a certain grandeur
and generosity, removed from the spirit of cabal and mean cunning
which prevail among men of the world." His blindness threw him out of
the competition of life, and back upon himself, in a way which was
sure to foster egotism. These were constitutional elements of that
aloofness from men which characterised all his utterance. These
disposing causes became inexorable fate, when, by the turn of the
political wheel of fortune, he found himself alone amid the mindless
dissipation and reckless materialism of the Restoration. He felt
himself then at war with human society as constituted around him, and
was thus driven to withdraw himself within a poetic world of his own
creation.

In this antagonism of the poet to his age much was lost; much energy
was consumed in what was mere friction. The artist is then most
powerful when he finds himself in accord with the age he lives in. The
plenitude of art is only reached when it marches with the sentiments
which possess a community. The defiant attitude easily slides into
paradox, and the mind falls in love with its own wilfulness. The
exceptional emergence of Milton's three poems, _Paradise Lost,
Regained_, and _Samson_, deeply colours their context. The greatest
achievements of art--in their kinds have been the capital specimens of
a large crop; as the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ are the picked lines out of
many rhapsodies, and Shakespeare the king of an army of contemporary
dramatists. Milton was a survival, felt himself such, and resented it.

                          Unchang'd,
    ....Though Fall'n on evil days,
    On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues;
    In darkness, and with dangers compass'd round,
    And solitude.

    _Paradise Lost_, vii. 24.

Poetry thus generated we should naturally expect to meet with more
admiration than sympathy. And such, on the whole, has been Milton's
reception. In 1678, twenty years after the publication of _Paradise
Lost_, Prior spoke of him (_Hind transversed_) as "a rough, unhewn
fellow, that a man must sweat to read him," And in 1842, Hallam had
doubts "if _Paradise Lost_, published eleven years since, would have
met with a greater demand" than it did at first. It has been much
disputed by historians of our literature what inference is to be drawn
from the numbers sold of _Paradise Lost_ at its first publication.
Between 1667 and 1678, a space of twenty years, three editions had
been printed, making together some 4500 copies. Was this a large or a
small circulation? Opinions are at variance on the point. Johnson and
Hallam thought it a large sale, as books went at that time. Campbell,
and the majority of our annalists of books, have considered it as
evidence of neglect. Comparison with what is known of other cases of
circulation leads to no more certain conclusion. On the one hand, the
public could not take more than three editions--say 3000 copies--of
the plays of Shakespeare in sixty years, from 1623 to 1684. If this
were a fair measure of possible circulation at the time, we should
have to pronounce Milton's sale a great success. On the other hand,
Cleveland's poems ran through sixteen or seventeen editions in about
thirty years. If this were the average output of a popular book, the
inference would be that _Paradise Lost_ was not such a book.

Whatever conclusion may be the true one from the amount of the public
demand, we cannot be wrong in asserting that from the first, and now
as then, _Paradise Lost_ has been more admired than read. The poet's
wish and expectation that he should find "fit audience, though few,"
has been fulfilled. Partly this has been due to his limitation, his
unsympathetic disposition, the deficiency of the human element in his
imagination, and his presentation of mythical instead of real beings.
But it is also in part a tribute to his excellence, and is to be
ascribed to the lofty strain which requires more effort to accompany,
than an average reader is able to make, a majestic demeanour which no
parodist has been able to degrade, and a wealth of allusion demanding
more literature than is possessed by any but the few whose life is
lived with the poets. An appreciation of Milton is the last reward of
consummated scholarship; and we may apply to him what Quintilian has
said of Cicero, "Ille se profecisse sciat, cui Cicero valde placebit."

Causes other than the inherent faults of the poem long continued to
weigh down the reputation of _Paradise Lost_. In Great Britain the
sense for art, poetry, literature, is confined to a few, while our
political life has been diffused and vigorous. Hence all judgment,
even upon a poet, is biassed by considerations of party. Before 1688
it was impossible that the poet, who had justified regicide, could
have any public beyond the suppressed and crouching Nonconformists.
The Revolution of 1688 removed this ban, and from that date forward
the Liberal party in England adopted Milton as the republican poet.
William Hogg, writing in 1690, says of _Paradise Lost_ that "the fame
of the poem is spread through the whole of England, but being written
in English, it is as yet unknown in foreign lands." This is obvious
exaggeration. Lauder, about 1748, gives the date exactly, when he
speaks of "that infinite tribute of veneration that has been paid to
him _these sixty years past_." One distinguished exception there was.
Dryden, royalist and Catholic though he was, was loyal to his art.
Nothing which Dryden ever wrote is so creditable to his taste, as his
being able to see, and daring to confess, in the day of disesteem,
that the regicide poet alone deserved the honour which his
cotemporaries were for rendering to himself. Dryden's saying; "This
man cuts us all out, and the ancients too," is not perfectly well
vouched, but it would hardly have been invented, if it had not been
known to express his sentiments. And Dryden's sense of Milton's
greatness grew with his taste. When, in the preface to his _State of
Innocence_ (1674), Dryden praised _Paradise Lost_, he "knew not half
the extent of its excellence," John Dennis says, "as more than twenty
years afterwards he confessed to me." Had he known it, he never could
have produced his vulgar parody, _The State of Innocence_, a piece
upon which he received the compliments of his cotemporaries, as
"having refined the ore of Milton."

With the one exception of Dryden, a better critic than poet, Milton's
repute was the work of the Whigs. The first _édition de luxe_ of
_Paradise Lost_ (1688) was brought out by a subscription got up by the
"Whig leader, Lord Somers. In this edition Dryden's pinchbeck epigram
so often quoted, first appeared--

    Three poets in three distant ages born, &c.

It was the Whig essayist, Addison, whose papers in the _Spectator_
(1712) did most to make the poem popularly known. In 1737, in
the height of the Whig ascendancy, the bust of Milton penetrated
Westminster Abbey, though, in the generation before, the Dean of that
day had refused to admit an inscription on the monument erected to
John Phillips, because the name of Milton occurred in it.

The zeal of the Liberal party in the propagation of the cult of Milton
was of course encountered by an equal passion on the part of the Tory
opposition. They were exasperated by the lustre which was reflected
upon Revolution principles by the name of Milton. About the middle of
the eighteenth century, when Whig popularity was already beginning to
wane, a desperate attempt was made by a rising Tory pamphleteer to
crush the new Liberal idol. Dr. Johnson, the most vigorous writer
of the day, conspired with one William Lauder, a native of Scotland
seeking fortune in London, to stamp out Milton's credit by proving him
to be a wholesale plagiarist. Milton's imitations--he had gathered
pearls wherever they were to be found--were thus to be turned into an
indictment against him. One of the beauties of _Paradise Lost_ is, as
has been already said, the scholar's flavour of literary reminiscence
which hangs about its words and images. This Virgilian art, in which
Milton has surpassed his master, was represented by this pair of
literary bandits as theft, and held to prove at once moral obliquity
and intellectual feebleness. This line of criticism was well chosen;
It was, in fact, an appeal to the many from the few. Unluckily for the
plot, Lauder was not satisfied with the amount of resemblance shown
by real parallel passages. He ventured upon the bold step of forging
verses, closely resembling lines in _Paradise Lost_, and ascribing
these verses to older poets. He even forged verses which he quoted as
if from _Paradise Lost_, and showed them as Milton's plagiarisms
from preceding writers. Even these clumsy fictions might have passed
without detection at that uncritical period of our literature,
and under the shelter of the name of Samuel Johnson. But Lauder's
impudence grew with the success of his criticisms, which he brought
out as letters, through a series of years, in the _Gentleman's
Magazine_. There was a translation of _Paradise Lost_ into Latin
hexameters, which had been made in 1690 by William Hogg. Lander
inserted lines, taken from this translation, into passages taken from
Massenius, Staphorstius, Taubmannus, neo-Latin poets, whom Milton had,
or might have read, and presented these passages as thefts by Milton.

Low as learning had sunk in England in 1750, Hogg's Latin _Paradisus
amissus_ was just the book, which tutors of colleges who could teach
Latin verses had often in their hands. Mr. Bowle, a tutor of Oriel
College, Oxford, immediately recognised an old acquaintance in one
or two of the interpolated lines. This put him upon the scent, he
submitted Lauder's passages to a closer investigation, and the whole
fraud was exposed. Johnson, who was not concerned in the cheat, and
was only guilty of indolence and party spirit, saved himself by
sacrificing his comrade. He afterwards took ample revenge for the
mortification of this exposure, in his _Lives of the Poets_, in which
he employed all his vigorous powers and consummate skill to write down
Milton. He undoubtedly dealt a heavy blow at the poet's reputation,
and succeeded in damaging it for at least two generations of readers.
He did for Milton what Aristophanes did for Socrates, effaced the real
man and replaced him by a distorted and degrading caricature.

It was again a clergyman to whom Milton owed his vindication from
Lauder's onslaught. John Douglas, afterwards bishop of Salisbury,
brought Bowle's materials before the public. But the high Anglican
section of English life has never thoroughly accepted Milton. R.S.
Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow, himself a poet of real feeling, gave
expression, in rabid abuse of Milton, to the antipathy which more
judicious churchmen suppress. Even the calm and gentle author of
the _Christian Year_, wide heart ill-sorted with a narrow creed,
deliberately framed a theory of Poetic for the express purpose, as it
would seem, of excluding the author of _Paradise Lost_ from the first
class of poets.

But a work such as Milton has constructed, at once intense and
elaborate, firmly knit and broadly laid, can afford to wait. Time
is all in its favour, and against its detractors. The Church never
forgives, and faction does not die out. But Milton has been, for two
centuries, getting beyond the reach of party feeling, whether of
friends or foes. In each national aggregate an instinct is always at
work, an instinct not equal to exact discrimination of lesser degrees
of merit, but surely finding out the chief forces which have found
expression in the native tongue. This instinct is not an active
faculty, and so exposed to the influences which warp the will, it is
a passive deposition from unconscious impression. Our appreciation of
our poet is not to be measured by our choosing him for our favourite
closet companion, or reading him often. As Voltaire wittily said of
Dante, "Sa reputation s'affirmera toujours, parce qu'on ne le lit
guère." We shall prefer to read the fashionable novelist of each
season as it passes, but we shall choose to be represented at the
international congress of world poets by Shakespeare and Milton;
Shakespeare first, and next MILTON.







*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Milton" ***

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