Page images

kingdoms and states from justice and God's true worship. Lastly, whatsoever in religion is holy and sublime, in virtue amiable or grave, whatsoever hath passion or admiration in all the changes of that which is called fortune from without, or the wily subtleties and refluxes of man's thoughts from within ; all these things with a solid and treatable smoothness to paint out and describe; teaching over the whole book of sanctity and virtue, through all the instances of example, with such delight, to those especially of soft and delicious temper, who will not so much as look upon truth herself unless they see her elegantly dressed, that whereas the paths of honesty and good life appear now rugged and difficult, though they be indeed easy and pleasant, they will then appear to all men both easy and pleasant, though they were rugged and difficult indeed.'*


[ocr errors]

To these quotations another of a different kind may be not improperly added, as well on account of the eloquence of the passage, as in proof that the author's opinions respecting the Trinity were at one time different from those which are disclosed in the present treatise. Which way to get out, or which way to end I know not, unless I turn mine eyes, and with your help lift up my hands, to that eternal and propitious throne, where nothing is readier than grace and refuge to the distresses of mortal suppliants : and it were a shame to leave these serious thoughts less piously than the heathen were wont to conclude their

* Prose Works, I. 120.

graver discourses. Thou, therefore, that sittest in light and glory unapproachable, Parent of angels and men! next thee I implore, omnipotent King, Redeemer of that lost remnant whose nature thou didst assume, ineffable and everlasting Love! And thou, the third subsistence of divine infinitude, illumining Spirit, the joy and solace of created things ! one tripersonal Godhead! look upon this thy poor and almost spent and expiring church; leave her not thus a prey to these importunate wolves, that wait and think long till they devour thy tender flock ; these wild boars that have broke into thy vineyard, and left the print of their polluting hoofs on the souls of thy servants. O let them not bring about their damned designs, that stand now at the entrance of the bottomless pit, expecting the watchword to open and let out those ureadful locusts and scorpions, to reinvolve us in that pitchy cloud of infernal darkness, where we shall never more see the sun of thy truth again, never hope for the chearful dawn, never more hear the bird of morning sing.'*

There is much reason for regretting that the prose works of Milton, where, in the midst of much that is coarse and intemperate, passages of such redeeming beauty occur, should be in the hands of so few readers, considering the advantage which might be derived

* Of Reformation in England. Prose Works, I. 56. See indeed the entire context of this and the preceding quotation. Compare also the eloquent conclusion of the fourth section of Animadversions upon the Remonstrant's Defence, I. 181—184.

to our literature from the study of their original and nervous eloquence. On their first appearance, indeed, they must inevitably have been received by some with indifference, by others with dislike, by many with resentment. The zeal of the author in the cause of the Parliament, and the bitter personality with which he too frequently advocates his civil and religious opinions, were not calculated to secure him a dis-, passionate hearing even from his most candid opponents. But in happier times, when it is less difficult to make allowance for the effervescence caused by the heat of conflicting politics, and when the judgement is no longer influenced by the animosities of party, the taste of the age may be profitably and safely recalled to those treatises of Milton which were not written to serve a mere temporary purpose. In one respect indeed they will be found to differ very materially from the work now published. The latter is distinguished in a remarkable degree by calmness of thought, as well as by moderation of language. His other writings are generally loaded with ornament and illustration bordering on the poetical, rather than the argumentative style, and such is the vehemence with which he pours out his opprobrious epithets against his antagonists, that he seems to exhaust the powers of language in the bitterness of his invective. These are the characteristics in particular of his earliest works, and especially of his declamations against More and Salmasius. The contrast which this volume presents is singular, and if, as is probable, it was composed during his declining years, it affords





a pleasing picture of a mind softened by the influence of religious principle, and becoming gradually more tolerant of the supposed errors of others, as the period drew near when he must answer for his own before an unerring tribunal. Milton pursues his plan, not indeed without an occasional sally against academical institutions and ecclesiastical privileges, but without a single glance at contemporaneous politics, or a single harsh expression against religious opinions at variance with his own. His language, even where the arguments themselves are least convincing, is almost uniformly plain and temperate, and his metaphors are sparingly and judiciously introduced. It would seem as if he recognized the propriety, on so grave a subject as religion, of suffering his mind to pursue its contemplations undisturbed by the flights of that vivid fancy, to which, on the ordinary topics which employed his pen, he prescribed no limits.

Milton has shown a partiality in all his works, even on subjects not immediately connected with religion, for supporting his argument by the authority of Scripture. This practice, though agreeable to the spirit of his age, is not unfrequently carried to an extravagant length; as when he defends indiscriminate reading by the examples of Moses, Daniel, and Paul, who were skilful in heathen learning.* To a theological treatise, however, illustrations of this kind properly belong; and it is gratifying to see the unbounded imagination of Milton deferring, with the simplicity

* Areopagitica. Prose Works, I. 296.

of a Pascal, to the infallible grounds of Scripture.'* · Let us,' says he in the present work, discard reason in sacred matters, and follow the doctrine of Holy Scripture exclusively.'t Indeed its peculiar feature, in the opinion of the author, appears to have been its compilation from the Bible alone. Not that he undervalued the Fathers, for in the course of his argument he alludes to the opinions of several, and frequently with commendation ; nor does he refuse to notice the criticisms of modern commentators, among whom Beza, whose interpretations he often follows, seems to have been an especial favourite. See especially his explanation of Rev. i. 4, 5. vol. I. p. 223. and of Philipp. iii. 15. vol. II. p. 161. Even in the title of his work, however, he refers to the Bible as his sole authority, with an emphasis indicative of the importance he attached to this circumstance. The same particular is again prominently alluded to in the preface, where an interesting account is given of the manner in which he qualified himself for the execution of his task. • Whereas the greater part of those who have written most largely on these subjects, have been wont to fill whole pages with explanations of their own opinions, thrusting into the margin | the texts in support of their doctrine, with a summary reference to chapter and

* Prose Works, II. 71.

+ 1. 115. , . | Milton speaks in the most contemptuous terms of these marginal stuffings,' in The Reason of Church Government, &c. Prose Works, I. 123. See also An Apology for Smect ymnuus, Ibid. 247. And elsewhere he says of Prynne, that he may be known, by his "wits lying ever beside him in the margin, to be ever beside his wits in the text.' Likeliest Means to remove Ilirelings, &c. III. 336. See also II. 241.

« PreviousContinue »