Зображення сторінки

spected him; he sold his books, knowing that his family could not profit by them after his death ; and amidst so many private and public miseries, he continued calm. Instead of repudiating what he had done, he gloried in it: instead of being cast down, he increased in firmness. He says, in his 22d sonnet:

“Cyriack, this three years day these eyes, though clear,

To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Bereft of sight, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth day appear
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not
Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate one jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
In liberty's defence, my noble task;
Of which all Europe ings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask

Content though blind, had I no other guide." I That thought was indeed his guide; he was “armed in himself," and that “ breastplate of diamond”? which had protected him in his prime against the wounds in battle, protected him in his old age against the temptations and doubts of defeat and adversity.

ܕ ܕܕ

IV, Milton lived in a small house in London, or in the country, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, published his History of Britain, his Logic, a Treatise on True Religion and Heresy, meditated his great Treatise on Christian Doctrine of all consolations, work is the most fortifying and the most healthy, because it solaces a man not by bringing him ease, but by requiring him to exert himself. Every morning he had a chapter of the Bible read to him in Hebrew, and remained for some time in silence, grave, in order to meditate on what he had heard. He never went to a place of worship. Independent in religion as in all else, he was sufficient to himself; finding in no sect the marks of the true church, he prayed to God alone, without needing others' help. He studied till mid-day; then, after an hour's exercise, he played the organ or the bass-violin. Then he resumed his studies till six, and in the evening enjoyed the society of his friends. When any one came to visit him, he was usually found in a room ! hung with old green hangings, seated in an arm-chair, and dressed neatly in black; his complexion was pale, says one of his visitors, but not sallow; his hands and feet were gouty; his hair, of a light brown, was parted in the midst and fell in long curls; his eyes, grey and clear, showed no sign of blindness. He had been very beautiful in his youth, and his English cheeks, once delicate as a young girl's, retained their color almost to the end. His face, we are told, was pleasing; his straight and manly gait bore witness to intrepidity and courage. Something great and proud breathes out yet from all his portraits; and certainly few men have done so much honor to their kind. Thus went out this noble life, like a setting sun, bright and calm. Amid so many trials, a pure and lofty joy, altogether worthy of him, had been granted to him: the poet, buried under the Puritan, had reappeared, more sublime than ever, to give to Christianity its second Homer. The dazzling dreams of his youth and the reminiscences of his ripe age were found in him, side by side with Calvinistic dogmas and the visions of Saint John, to create the Protestant epic of damnation and grace; and the vastness of primitive horizons, the flames of the infernal dungeon, the splendors of the celestial court, opened to the inner eye of the soul unknown regions beyond the sights which the eyes of the flesh had lost.

Street was burnt in the great fire. When he died he is said to have left about 1500 in money (equivalent to about $50200 now), besides household goods. [1 am indetted to the kindness of Professor Masson for the collation of this note.--TR.) Milton's Poetical Works, Mitford, i. Sonnet xxii.

2 Itažın Souncis.

V. I have before me the formidable volume in which, some time aster Milton's death, his prose works were collected. What a book! The chairs creak when you place it upon them, and a man who had turned its leaves over for an hour, would have less pain in his head than in his arm. As the book, so were the men; from the mere outsides we might gather some notion of the controversialists and theologians whose doctrines they contain. Yet we must conclude that the author was eminently learned, elegant,

1 3 vols. folio, 1697-8. The titles of Milton's chief writings in prose are these :-Of Ref. ormation in England ; The Reason of Church Government urged against l'relaty ; Ania maduersions upon the Remonstrants' Defence ; Doutrine and Discipline of Dirare; Tetrachorton ; Tractate on Education , dreopagitica ; Tenure of kings and diagis. trates ; Eikonoklastes ; History of Britain ; Defence of the People of England.

traveled, philosophic, and a man of the world for his age/we think involuntarily of the portraits of the theologians of those days, severe faces engraved on metal by the hard artist's tool, whose square brows and steady eyes stand out in startling prominence against a dark oak panel. We compare them to modern countenances, in which the delicate and complex features seem to quiver at the varied contact of hardly begun sensations and innumerable ideas. We try to imagine the heavy classical education, the physical exercises, the rude treatment, the rare ideas, the imposed dogmas, which formerly occupied, oppressed, fortified, and hardened the young; and we might fancy ourselves looking at an anatomy of megatheria and mastodons, reconstructed by Cuvier.

The race of living men is changed. Our mind fails us now-adays at the idea of this greatness and this barbarism; but we discover that the barbarism was then the cause of the greatness. As in other times we might have seen, in the primitive slime and among the colossal ferns, ponderous monsters slowly wind their scaly backs, and tear the flesh from one another's sides with their misshapen talons; so now, at a distance, from the height of our calm civilization, we see the battles of the theologians, who, armed with syllogisms, bristling with texts, covered one another with filth, and labored to devour each other.

Milton fought in the front rank, pre-ordained to barbarism and greatness by his individual nature and the manners of the time, capable of displaying in high prominence the logic, style, and spirit of his age. It is drawing-room life which trims men into shape: the society of ladies, the lack of serious interests, idleness, vanity, security, are needed to bring men to elegance, urbanity, fine and light humor, to teach the desire to please, the fear to become wearisome, a perfect clearness, a finished precision, the art of gradual transitions and delicate tact, a taste for suitable images, continual ease, and choice diversity. Seek nothing like this in Milton. The old scholastic system was not far off; it still weighed on those who were destroying it. Under this secular armor discussion proceeded pedantically, with measured steps. The first thing was to propound a thesis; and Milton writes, in large characters, at the head of his Treatise on Divorce, “that indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature unchangeable, hindering, and ever likely to hinder the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace, is a greater reason of divorce than natural frigidity, especially if there be no children, and that there be mutual consent." And then follow, legion after legion, the disciplined army of the arguments. Battalion after battalion they pass by, num. bered very distinctly. There is a dozen of them together, each with its title in clear characters, and the little brigade of subdivisions which it commands. Sacred texts hold the post of honor. Every word of them is discussed, the substantive after the adjective, the verb after the substantive, the preposition after the verb; interpretations, authorities, illustrations, are summoned up, and ranged between palisades of new divisions. And yet there is a lack of order, the question is not reduced to a single idea; we cannot see our way; proofs succeed proofs without logical sequence; we are rather tired out than convinced. We remember that the author speaks to Oxford men, lay or cleric, trained in pretended discussions, capable of obstinate attention, accustomed to digest indigestible books. They are at home in this thorny thicket of scholastic brambles; they beat a path through, somewhat at hazard, hardened against the hurts which repulse us, and not having the smallest idea of the daylight which we require everywhere now.

With such ponderous reasoners, you must not look for wit. Wit is the nimbleness of victorious reason; here, because everything is powerful, all is heavy. When Milton wishes to joke, he looks like one of Cromwell's pikemen, who, entering a room to dance, should fall upon the floor, and that with the extra weight of his armor. Few things could be more stupid than his Animadversions upon the Remonstrants' Defence. At the end of an argument his adversary concludes with this specimen of theological wit: “In the meanwhile see, brethren, how you have with Simon fished all night, and caught nothing." And Milton boastfully replies: “ If we, fishing with Simon the apostle, can catch nothing; see what you can catch with Simon Magus; for all his hooks and fishing implements he bequeathed among you.” Here a great savage laugh would break out.

The spectators saw a charm in this way of insinuating that his adversary was simoniacal. A little before, the latter says: “Tell me, is this liturgy good or evil?" Answer: “It is evil: repair the acheloian horn of your dilemma, how you can, against the next push.” The doctors wondered at the fine mythological simile, and rejoiced to see the adversary so neatly compared to an ox, a beaten ox, a pagan ox. On the next page the Remonstrant said, by way of a spiritual and mocking reproach: “ Truly, brethren, you have not well taken the heighth of the pole." Answer: “No marvel; there be many more that do not take well the height of your pole, but will take better the declination of your altitude.” Three quips of the same savor follow one upon the other; all this looked pretty. Elsewhere, Salmasins exclaiming “ that the sun itself never beheld a more outrageous inction” than the murder of the king, Milton cleverly answers, “ The sun has beheld many things that blind Bernard never saw. But we are content you should mention the sun over and over. And it will be a piece of prudence in you so to do. For though our wickedness does not require it, the coldness of the defence that you are making does.”! The marvelous heaviness of these conceits betrays minds yet entangled in the swaddling-clothes of learning. The Reformation was the inauguration of free thought, but only the inauguration. Criticism was yet unborn ; authority still presses with a full half of its weight upon the freest and boldest minds. Milton, to prove that it was lawful to put a king to death, quotes Orestes, the laws of Publicola, and the death of Nero. His History of Britain is a farrago of all the traditions and fables. Under every circumstance he adduces a text of Scripture for proof; his boldness consists in showing himself a bold grammarian, a valorous commentator. He is blindly Protestant as others were blindly Catholic. He leaves in its bondage the higher reason, the mother of principles; he has but emancipated a subordinate reason, an interpreter of texts. Like the vast half shapeless creatures, the birth of early times, he is yet but half man and half mud.

Can we expect urbanity here? Urbanity is the elegant dig. nity which answers insult by calm irony, and respects man whilst piercing a dogma. Milton coarsely knocks his adversary down. A bristling pedant, born from a Greek lexicon and a Syriac grammar, Salmasius had disgorged upon the English people a vocabulary of insults and a folio of quotations. Milton replies to him in the same style; calling him a buffoon, a mountebank

TA Defence of the People of England, Mitford, vi. 21.

« НазадПродовжити »